The French Yellow Book

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No. 65 :
M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Berlin, March 14, 1939.

IMMEDIATELY after the Vienna Award, while the German Press was celebrating the "final" nature of the German-Italian solution, a farsighted observer of affairs in Central Europe stated in Berlin: "The old Czechoslovakia has lasted twenty years, the new Czechoslovak State will not last five." Events which are now taking place have proved him right inasmuch as the Czechoslovakia of November 2, 1938, did not even last five months.

This evening, leading newspapers of the National-Socialists are announcing as an accomplished fact the disruption of the neighbouring State. The Diet of Bratislava proclaimed this morning the independence of Slovakia, Hungarian troops have crossed the frontier of Sub-Carpathian Russia; and, in reprisal for incidents more or less provoked, at Iglau, Brunn and elsewhere, the threat of a "crushing" intervention of the Reichswehr hovers over Bohemia and Moravia.

According to rumours as yet unconfirmed, German detachments have penetrated Czech territory at several points.

It is striking to note once again the rapidity and precision with which Hitler's political plans have been accomplished, for it is beyond any question of doubt that the present crisis is in accordance with a carefully preconceived plan of which Berlin holds the principal strings. This Embassy has recently collected various information which leaves no uncertainty on this point. On February 5 a National-Socialist of standing, whose duties call for direct contact with the Führer's immediate circle, told one of my collaborators to be prepared for developments in which a "dislocation" (Auflösung) of Czechoslovakia would be unavoidable. In this case, he added, Slovakia would become independent, Hungary would annex Sub-Carpathian Russia, and the Reich would, in one form or another, obtain control of Bohemia and of Moravia. It is this process of disruption, this dissection of Czechoslovakia, into three pieces, which is being brought about today.

In explanation of this astonishing gift of prophecy, one can admit that the controlling circles of the Third Reich possessed at that time most precise information of the attitude of the Slovak people. They could form a better judgment of the developments in the situation since they exercised a strong control over it. But there is a more simple explanation: German policy had first decided upon its aims in outline. After that all that remained was to find means of inventing pretexts.

Now the partition of Czechoslovakia into three pieces allowed Germany a revision, if not a complete change in her policy towards that country. After Munich, the National-Socialist leaders officially took upon themselves the task of maintaining, in its then reduced limits, the integrity of the new Czechoslovak State. They considered at that time that a vassal Czechoslovakia, obedient to the will of the Reich would afford the latter a starting-point for her expansion towards the South-East, an expansion which had only to follow the corridor of Sub-Carpathian Russia to reach the oil-wells of Rumania and the wheat fields of the Ukraine. Hence Germany's veto to the Hungarian-Polish project of a common frontier, hence her stubborn determination in Vienna on November 2 to safeguard the existence of an independent Carpathian Ukraine within the frame of the Czechoslovak State.

Today, Berlin does not hesitate to retract. The Nazi leaders are renouncing the principle of Czechoslovakian integrity. They are removing their opposition to the plan of a Polish-Hungarian frontier on the Carpathians. It is interesting to speculate when, how, and for what reasons this change of mind has occurred.

During the whole of the month of November and a part of the month of December 1938 the inspired Press of the Reich never ceased to present the Belvedere arbitration as a fair compromise bringing a definite solution to the Hungarian-Czechoslovak difficulties. The Poles, having themselves obtained complete satisfaction over their national claims in the region of Teschen, the new Czechoslovakia was, according to the German Press, a solid State which would prove to the world the superiority of the political conceptions of the Axis to the superficial structure built up immediately after the Great War by the Peace Treaties. This assertion was accompanied at times by calls to order addressed sometimes to the Hungarians, sometimes to the Poles when they appeared insufficiently convinced of the immutability of the established state of things.

Towards the end of December, there was sudden silence over the advantages of the Vienna Award. In January, there was no longer any mention of it, and in a speech delivered to the Reichstag the Führer only touched lightly on the Czechoslovak problem. It is, therefore, permissible to conclude that it was towards the end of the year 1938, that Chancellor Hitler decided for definite motives to fall back on the lines which Italian political circles had continued to recommend in respect of Sub-Carpathian Russia.

Indeed, on January 7, the Führer, when receiving Colonel Beck at Berchtesgaden, declared to him that in his opinion the Ukrainian question was not of "immediate interest." It seems that with Count Czaky, at the time of his official visit to Berlin (January 16 to 18), the ruling elements of the Reich were still more explicit, and that the Hungarian Minister was given to understand that the Reich would not oppose, should occasion arise, the seizure of Sub-Carpathian Russia by Budapest.

What reasons can have induced the Führer to modify his attitude in this respect? On this point, as things at present stand, one is naturally reduced to conjecture. Possibly, as the correspondence from this Embassy has already indicated, the Nazi leaders realized that they were mistaken about the importance, for the purpose of a future German advance towards the East, of a Sub-Carpathian Russia that had been dismantled and deprived of its urban centres, its main roads and its railways by the Belvedere arbitral award. Then again, in order to keep in hand such an uncertain trump card, could the Third Reich allow its difficulties in Central Europe to increase, incur the rancour of the Hungarians and the resentment of the Poles? It was rumoured that the coming together of Warsaw and Moscow and the vehement tone of a part of the Press and of the Hungarian Opposition had aroused Adolf Hitler's concern. In trying to avoid the material obstacle of the common frontier was he not going to rouse against him the joint hostility of Hungary and of Poland, just at a time when the Western Powers were striving to reinforce their armaments? By yielding to the Hungarian-Polish plans, the Reich would, on the contrary, be assured of the gratitude of the Magyars and of their eventual support against Rumania and, on the day when he decided to resume his drive towards the East he would have at his disposal the broad fairway of the Hungarian plains instead of the narrow and difficult path of the Carpathians. As far as Poland is concerned, Berlin has possibly flattered itself that Polish neutrality in case of a European conflict could be bought by freeing Poland from the danger of having at her Southern frontier an independent Ukrainian province which would be the centre of propaganda and irredentist unrest.

However, the decision once having been taken, German policy definitely intended to press forward. The reply of the Wilhelmstrasse to the Franco-British inquiry concerning the guaranteeing of the new Czechoslovak frontier leaves no doubt on this score. This note, dated February 28, is the first official German document to admit, to Paris and London, the failure of the Vienna Award. This position permitted the Reich Government to refuse its guarantee and, in consequence, left it the possibility to reconsider the whole matter. In well-informed Berlin circles, no secret had been made of the fact that in this respect the date of March 15 might be decisive.

It remained, then, only to find means of action and pretexts. It is an established dogma of National-Socialist policy to undermine from inside the States which are to be destroyed. The Slovaks appear to have played this time the part played by the Sudetens last year. By secretly encouraging the uncompromising Slovak elements, notably the partisans of the Radical movement "Rodebrana," and by stirring up against Prague certain Slovak Ministers such as M. Mach and M. Durcansky, Hitler's agents cunningly caused this variance to degenerate into an acute crisis. If there were, as has been stated, any project of a Putsch at Bratislava there are good reasons for believing that the German authorities were in the secret. It was not simply by chance that M. Durcansky, as soon as he was able to escape, took refuge in Vienna, where the radio was put at his disposal to allow him to carry on his anti-Czech campaign.

Prague appears to have tried to forestall this measure, but too late Perhaps, also, the policy of the Central Government was not always perfectly clear or wise. If the Czech leaders have expressed ample signs of goodwill towards Berlin, it seems that they have believed that at the same time they could continue inside their country a policy which was purely Czech. In doing this, they have revived old internal jealousies and needlessly aroused the suspicions of the Reich. This movement, once started, developed according to the prescription, tried out at the time of the Anschluss and improved during last year's crisis. The Tiso note recalls the Seyss-Inquart telegram. The incidents which took place at Iglau, Brunn and other German-speaking centres were used to transform at a given moment the Czechoslovak conflict into a German-Czech conflict. One finds again in the Berlin papers the same headlines as in August 1938, and almost the same statements: the pregnant woman struck down and trampled upon, the "Deutschtum" in danger, because a student of the German minority was ill-treated and in the headings of tonight's papers the final motive of a "Blutbad" which must be avenged. In the meantime Mgr. Tiso and M. Durcansky have gone in a dramatic way to the Führer, as Herr Henlein had previously done.

It is still too early to know to what extent the almost desperate effort now being made in Berlin by the President of the Czechoslovak Republic and his Prime Minister will modify the German attitude and safeguard the federal unity of the country. It is to be feared that the two statesmen only came from Prague to ratify the Führer's decisions.


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