The French Yellow Book

Previous Document Contents Next Document

No. 73 :
M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Berlin, March 16, 1939.

LESS than six months after the conclusion of the Munich Agreement and hardly four months after the Vienna Award, Germany, treating her own and her partners' signatures as negligible quantities has brought about the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, occupied with her army Bohemia and Moravia and annexed both these provinces to the Reich. Since yesterday, March 15, the swastika has been flying over the Hradschin, while the Führer, protected by tanks and armoured cars, entered the city among a staggered and thunder-struck population. Slovakia has broken away. A so-called independent state, she has in fact placed herself under the protection of Germany. Sub-Carpathian Russia has been left to Hungary, whose troops have already crossed the frontier. Czechoslovakia, which at Munich agreed to such cruel sacrifices for the sake of peace, no longer exists. The dream of those Nazis who were most eager for her destruction has been realized. Czechoslovakia has vanished from the map of Europe.

The events, which have led up to this result with a lightning speed are typical of the mentality and the methods of the Nazi rulers. They carry with them certain lessons and practical conclusions which all States anxious for their independence and security should draw without delay, faced as they are with a Germany intoxicated by success and which, abandoning the line of racial claims, is plunging forward into sheer imperialism.

The operation to which Czechoslovakia has just fallen a victim bears to an even greater degree than former coups the characteristic marks of Nazi action: cynicism and treachery in conception, secrecy in preparation and brutality in execution.

At Munich, the Nazi leaders and the Führer himself had laid great stress on the impossibility for Germans and Czechs to live together in the same State; they had urged the implacable and age-long hatred of the Czechs for everything German; they had asserted that the maintenance of peace depended on a line being drawn strictly between the two nationalities; they had managed to convince Lord Runciman of this necessity whilst protesting on the other hand that they had no wish to incorporate alien elements in the Reich. It was in virtue of these principles that the negotiators assembled in the Bavarian capital had compelled the Prague Government to hand over territories in which the German population was predominant. In exchange, Czechoslovakia was to receive an international guarantee of her new frontiers, a guarantee in which Germany herself would take part.

Actually, it very soon appeared, during the work of the International Commission at Berlin at the beginning of October, that the German negotiators were guided far more by strategical than by ethnographical considerations. The numerous interventions of the Wehrmacht's Oberkommando during the course of these negotiations showed that the German leaders intended above all to draw a frontier which would deprive Czechoslovakia of all her natural defences and fortifications, and would reduce her to complete military impotence. Indeed, the boundaries which the Prague Government had to accept in October meant the inclusion of 850,000 Czechs within the Reich.

Today there is no further question of the separation of Czechs from Germans, which was claimed to be so indispensable to peace in the Danube basin and in Europe. Completely reversing her tactics, Germany has again brought into being that German-Czech amalgamation, the elements of which she had declared last September to be incompatible. Whereas a few months ago, she was saying that the co-existence of these two racial groups was an impossibility, she now claims to show that such a co-existence is entirely natural, that it can be historically justified and that it is the result of certain economic and geographical necessities. There is no further question of the implacable and age-long hatred between Germans and Czechs: on the contrary, it is held that the two peoples can and must live in harmony together inside one political community.

The Munich agreements, therefore, were for the Nazi rulers nothing but a means of disarming Czechoslovakia before annexing it. It would, perhaps, be going rather far to assert that the Führer had conceived this project even at Munich. What is beyond all doubt is that, by annexing under threat of arms the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, the Government of the Reich, a signatory to the September agreements, is guilty of a breach of trust, of a real act of treachery to the co-signatory States, particularly the Czech Government which, trusting in the word of the Great Powers, had resigned itself to handing over the Sudeten territories.

It was in the name of this ethnographical principle that the Reich had obtained the return of three and a half million Germans in September. It is in contempt of this principle that it annexes eight million Czechs today, left defenseless by the handing over of the Sudeten territory.

It is the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination that Germany now invokes in support of the independence (in any case purely illusory) of Slovakia, but this same right is refused to the Carpatho-Ukrainians abandoned to Hungary, and to the Czechs who have been forcibly incorporated in the Reich.

Germany has once again demonstrated her contempt for all written pledges and her preference for methods of brute force and the fait accompli. Without scruple she has torn up the Munich Agreement as well as the Vienna Award, proving yet again that her policy has only one guiding principle: to watch for a suitable opportunity and to seize any booty within reach. It is, more or less, the morality common to the gangster and to the denizens of the jungle.

German cynicism has, moreover, been accompanied by consummate skill. With a remarkable control of men and events, the Government of the Reich has been at pains to give an appearance of legality to the violence done to the Czechs.

The official German thesis is that Czechoslovakia fell to pieces of itself. Slovakia, it is declared, in breaking with Prague, split the Federal Republic into three pieces.

As for Bohemia and Moravia, it was freely and of its own volition that the Prague Government, unable to maintain order and to protect the lives of the German minority, placed the care of these provinces-so runs the argument in the Führer's hands.

Such arguments can deceive no one.

There can be no doubt that Slovak separatism was the work of German agents or of Slovaks controlled directly from Berlin. M. Mach head of the propaganda department of the Bratislava Government and a most ardent extremist, was well-known for his entire devotion to the Reich. M. Durcansky, Minister of Transport, who made frequent visits to Germany, was also a mere tool in Nazi hands, particularly in those of M. Karmasin, the "Führer" of the 120,000 Germans in Slovakia. As for Mgr. Tiso, a man of little energy, although as a priest he was worried by the growth of Nazi ideology in his country he was incapable of opposing the separatist tendencies encouraged by Germany. It was on account of this weakness that the Prague Government dismissed him on March 10. This rigorous measure against Mgr. Tiso and the latter's appeal for assistance to the Reich Government supplied the German rulers with the excuse for which they had been waiting to interfere in the quarrel between the Czechs and the Slovaks.

On receipt of the note from the dismissed President, German official circles let it be known that in their view Mgr. Tiso's Government alone had a legal character, and that, by appointing a new Prime Minister, Prague had violated the Constitution. From this moment the Berlin newspapers began to denounce the terror unleashed in Bratislava by the Czechs against the Slovak autonomists and their German comrades.

From the 12th onwards the tone of the Berlin Press became more violent. Now it was not only a question of clashes in Slovakia, but also in Bohemia and Moravia. Within twenty-four hours the Berlin papers had relegated to the background the sufferings of the Slovaks and denounced with every sign of the keenest resentment the brutalities to which Germans in Czechoslovakia were subjected, whether they were members of the racial minority or citizens of the Reich. To judge from the German papers, which used not only the same language but exactly the same expressions as in September last, the lives of the 500,000 Germans in Czechoslovakia were in the most serious danger. The Czechs, in whom the old Hussite spirit and the hatred of Germanism was re-awakening, had once more organized man-hunts. The situation was becoming intolerable.

Actually, with the exception of Bratislava, where unrest had been fomented by the German Self-Protection Service and by the Hlinka Guards, who had been armed by Germany, public order had been disturbed neither in Slovakia nor in Bohemia and Moravia. At Brunn, for example, where, according to the German Press, German blood had been shed, the British Consul was able to see and report to his Minister in Prague that there was complete calm. The stories published by the Berlin newspapers under inflammatory titles were, furthermore, very thin in content, much like a few grains of dust whirled along by some infernal bellows.

On the evening of the 13th the German leaders, who had unremittingly counteracted the efforts of Prague to establish a new Slovakian Government, summoned Mgr. Tiso to Berlin. During the night of the 13th-14th, together with M. Durcansky, he had a long interview with the Führer, who expressed his determination to see the creation of "an entirely free Slovakia." The proclamation of Slovak independence should follow without delay. That same evening, the 60 members of the Diet were summoned for the next day at Bratislava, and Slovak independence, decided in Berlin, was unanimously voted by them. From the afternoon of the 14th, the German Press was in a position to declare that Czechoslovakia had fallen to pieces, that she was in a state of complete decay, that the Communists had reappeared and, together with Czech chauvinists, were hunting and ill-treating the Germans, notably at Brunn and Iglau. German blood-so it was reported-was flowing in torrents. Germany-it was said-could no longer tolerate such a state of affairs.

Meanwhile, 14 divisions, composed almost entirely of mechanized units, had been concentrated on the frontiers of Bohemia and Moravia. On the afternoon of the 14th, German troops entered Czech territory and occupied Morawska-Ostrawa.

Before giving the troops the order to march to the invasion of Czech territory, it was necessary to find some semblance of a justification. M. Hacha, President of the Czechoslovak Republic and M. Chvalkovsky, Minister for Foreign Affairs, arrived at Berlin where they were received by the Führer in the presence of Herr von Ribbentrop and Field-Marshal Goering. Brutally, the Führer states that there is no question of negotiation. The Czech statesmen are asked to acquaint themselves with the decisions of Berlin and to bow to them. Any sign of resistance will be crushed. Any opposition to the German troops will be put down by means of aerial bombardment. The Reich has decided to annex Bohemia and Moravia. Prague will be occupied on the following day at 10 o'clock. President Hacha, a man of great age and in failing health, collapses and faints. Field-Marshal Goering's own doctors intervene and bring him round with injections. Then the old man signs the document presented to him, by which the Czech Government places the destiny of Bohemia and Moravia "with full confidence" in the hands of the Führer.

The next day, the 15th, at nine o'clock in the morning, the first mechanized troops reach Prague. During the afternoon, the Führer enters the Imperial Castle of Hradschin and immediately orders the swastika to be hoisted. Czechoslovakia is no more.

The following day, the 16th, the Führer decrees the incorporation of Bohemia and Moravia within the Reich and constitutes them a Protectorate with some sort of self-administration, under the control of "Protector" representing Germany and residing at Prague.

The same day, Mgr. Tiso, head of the new so-called independent Slovak State, asks the Führer to take Slovakia under his protection.

The Chancellor accepts at once. In fact, Slovak independence is at an end. Mutilated by the Vienna Award, robbed of its most fertile lands and reduced to a mountainous region, the country cannot in any case hope for an independent existence.

On March 12 Sub-Carpathian Russia too had proclaimed its independence and solicited the protection of Germany. But the Nazi leaders remained deaf to its appeal, although that country, which for a while had played the role of "Ukrainian Piedmont," had relied entirely upon them.

Sub-Carpathian Ukraine was invaded by Hungarian troops. In despair, the Chust Government offered the country to Rumania. M. Revay, Prime Minister, in a telegram to the French Embassy in Berlin, sought to persuade the French Government to approach the Government in Budapest in the hope that the fate of the country might be decided by diplomatic means and not by force of arms.

Everything seems to point to the conclusion that the Reich has no interest in this State and is abandoning it to Hungary.

One more feature deserves notice. It is the speed with which the operation ending in the partition of Czechoslovakia was decided upon and prepared.

Since the beginning of February, this Embassy had certainly noted numerous indications of Germany's intentions concerning Czechoslovakia. These convergent symptoms left no doubt that the Nazis were only awaiting a favourable opportunity to finish the work begun at Munich and to deal the final blow to a State which, already mortally wounded, was struggling with inextricable internal difficulties.

But it seems that the decision was not taken until March 8 or 9, that is, after the departure of Field-Marshal Goering for Italy, whence he was urgently recalled. Only on March 11 and 12 came the first reports of troop movements. On the 14th, about 200,000 men were massed on the frontiers of Bohemia and Moravia. This concentration took place without any disturbance of the normal life of the country. Once more, bombers played a decisive role. They were the unanswerable argument to which the Czech Ministers bowed, anxious to spare their people the horrors and the destruction of aerial bombardment.

In another letter I point out the repercussions likely to occur in Europe as a result of the new changes brought about in the map of the Continent under the pressure of Nazi Germany.

In conclusion I will simply draw attention to what may be learnt from this new coup committed by the Third Reich.

Nazi Germany has now thrown aside the mask. Until now, she has denied the charge of imperialism. She asserted that her only wish was to re-unite as far as possible all the Germans of Central Europe in one family, to the exclusion of aliens. Today, it is clear that the Führer's thirst for domination knows no limit.

It is equally clear that all hopes of opposing to the Führer any arguments other than those of force are in vain. The Third Reich has the same contempt as the Empire of Wilhelm II for treaties and pledges. Germany remains the country of "scraps of paper."

National security as well as world peace demand from the French people an immense effort of discipline and the organization of the country's whole energy, which alone will enable France, with the help of her friends, to assert herself and defend her interests in the face of so formidable an adversary as the Germany of Adolf Hitler, plunging forward to the conquest of Europe.


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

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.