The French Yellow Book

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No. 124 :
M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Berlin, May 7, 1939.

THE German-Polish conflict appears to have come to a standstill for the moment.

On May 5, Colonel Beck replied in the Diet to the speech that Herr Hitler had made before the Reichstag on April 28. On the same day, the Polish Chargé d'Affaires in Berlin handed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs his Government's memorandum in reply to the German memorandum. Each of the conflicting parties maintains its attitude. The National-Socialist leaders announce through their Press that they expect a gesture from Warsaw. (See Börsenzeitang, May 6: "M. Beck mentioned, at the end of his speech, the possibility of fresh negotiations. He cannot expect us, after all that has happened, to go to him. If fresh negotiations should really take place, Germany expects Poland to make a gesture which is in conformity with the Führer's straightforward attitude.") On their side, the Poles put forward the history of the German-Polish negotiations and the unilateral repudiation by the Reich of the treaty of 1934 in order to maintain, and rightly so, that it is not for them to take the first step, or to take the initiative in proposing that conversations should take place. In placing the text of the Polish memorandum in Baron von Weizsäcker's hands, Prince Lubomirski did not attempt to bring about a renewed exchange of views. The interview, so he told me, lasted only as long as was necessary for the actual handing over of the document.

It should be noted, on the other hand, that since Saturday afternoon, that is to say, since May 6, the German Press has restrained its tone towards Poland. The newspapers are noticeably more moderate in their attacks against M. Beck and his Government. This lull coincides with the Italian-German conversations in Milan. Is this mere chance? Or might it be, as it is rumored in Berlin, that Italy only signed the military alliance with the Reich on condition that the latter would, for the present, not undertake anything against Poland?

Anyhow, the articles about Poland, which in the German newspapers tend to take the same place as articles about Czechoslovakia last summer, have not been multiplied by new incidents. Obviously, formal instructions towards moderation have been given on both sides. As to Poland, Prince Lubomirski has assured me that nothing has been neglected in order to allay the excitement of the people there. As a proof of this, he instanced the fact that his Government, while it was lodging a protest in Berlin through diplomatic channels, had not wished to give any publicity to the numerous violations of the frontier committed by German planes: according to what he told me, in the last fortnight 64 German machines were reported to have flown over Polish territory in an illegal manner. The Germans, on the other hand, during the last three months had only been able to make nine similar charges against Polish aviation.

I did not fail to remind the Polish Chargé d'Affaires of the importance attached in Paris and London to the fact that Warsaw should maintain this attitude of wise moderation and should avoid furnishing the slightest excuse for the anti-Polish campaign to Dr. Goebbels.

On military questions, as I have mentioned elsewhere, I have received no information of special interest. True, movements of troops are being observed in different parts of German territory, but nowhere have there been any disquieting concentrations in the vicinity of the Polish frontier.

It appears, then, that this must be taken as a short lull, the duration of which, admittedly, remains uncertain. Convinced as it is today of the determination of Poland and of her Western allies to offer armed resistance to any new attack on the part of Germany, the Reich appears to abandon for a time purely strategical considerations and to take up anew the diplomatic game. One may assume that the exact study of the moral and material forces confronting one another counted for something in this prudent decision.

As to the diplomatic contest which is now being initiated, the conditions are comparatively easy for Germany. Her purpose is to subdue Polish resistance, either by direct or indirect pressure, and thus to destroy beyond repair the bulwark which the Western Powers are endeavouring to erect in the East against National-Socialist expansion. The first stage, that of direct pressure, ended in a reverse. Shall we now witness the development of the second stage, that of intimidation by indirect means? In order to reply to that question, it is not unprofitable to call to mind briefly the history of the German proposals to Poland.

In his speech of April 28, Herr Hitler summed up as follows the essential points of those proposals:

(1) Danzig returns as a Free State into the framework of the German Reich.

(2) Germany receives a road through the Corridor and a railway line at her disposal possessing the same extra-territorial status as the Corridor itself has for Poland.

In return, Germany is prepared:

(1) To recognize all Polish economic rights in Danzig.

(2) To ensure for Poland a free harbour in Danzig of any size desired with completely free access to the sea.

(3) To accept at the same time the present boundaries between Germany and Poland and to regard them as final.

(4) To conclude a twenty-five-year non-aggression treaty with Poland.

(5) To guarantee the independence of the Slovak State by Germany, Poland and Hungary jointly-which means in practice the renunciation of any unilateral German hegemony in this territory.

According to Herr Hitler, the Polish Government declined this offer and declared itself merely disposed:

(1) To negotiate concerning the question of a substitute for the High Commissioner of the League of Nations.

(2) To consider facilities for the transit traffic through the Corridor.

Now M. Beck, before the Polish Diet on May 5, gave the correct version:

(1) On the first and second points, i.e., the question of the future of Danzig and communications across Polish Pomerania, he said it was still a matter of unilateral concessions which the Government of the Reich appear to be demanding from Poland.

The proof of this, according to him, was that the Polish counterproposals of March 26, aiming at a "joint guarantee of the existence and the rights of the Free City," remained unanswered, and that the Government of Warsaw had learnt only through the speech of April 28 that these counter-proposals had been taken as a refusal in Berlin.

(2) As regards the triple condominium in Slovakia, the Minister stated that he had heard this proposal for the first time in the Chancellor's speech of April 28. In certain previous conversations allusions were merely made to the effect that in the event of a general agreement the question of Slovakia could be discussed.

According to M. Beck, the Polish Government did not attempt to pursue such conversations any further.

(3) Similarly, the proposal for a prolongation of the pact of non-aggression for twenty-five years was also not advanced in any concrete form in any of the recent conversations. Here also unofficial hints were made, emanating, it is true, from prominent representatives of the Reich Government.

Through the pen of an officially inspired editor, Dr. Kriegk, in the Nachtausgabe (May 6), political circles in Berlin have in their turn refuted M. Beck's assertions. The German version gives the following account:

(1) M. Beck had an opportunity in October 1938, and in January and March 1939, to learn all the details of the German proposals, either through his personal interviews with Chancellor Hitler and with Herr von Ribbentrop, or through the conversations of his Ambassador in Berlin with leading members of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

(2) Concerning especially the conclusion of a pact of non-aggression for twenty-five years, the Führer had expressly spoken of it to M. Beck in the course of their interview at the Obersalzberg on January 5, 1939.

(3) As to the Polish counter-proposals of March 26, it had been definitely indicated to the Polish Ambassador, when he presented them in Berlin, that the German Government saw them in the light of a refusal of the German proposals. Either M. Lipski did not inform his chief, or the latter is not speaking the truth.

Yet in this controversy, keenly contested as it is, there is one point which on the German side was modestly left in the dark. It is the one to which the Polish Foreign Minister referred when he specified that, in the German-Polish conversations, the representatives of the Reich Government had also given "other hints extending much further than the subject under discussion," and that their Government reserved the right to return to this matter if necessary.

Germany's silence is understandable, if it is realized that this is actually where the crux of the whole problem lies.

I have gathered, from a very reliable source, information which allows me to assert that, by way of compensation and in order to draw Poland into their game, the National-Socialist leaders have hinted in their conversations with the Poles at the possibility of sharing in a partition of the Russian Ukraine.

In the same connection the Polish Military Attaché, when he received one of my collaborators yesterday, gave some significant indications on the great plans which even recently the leaders of the Third Reich had been hammering out, and in the realization of which they had hoped, until March 26, to enlist Polish complicity.

It is said that when Chancellor Hitler received M. Beck in Berchtesgaden, he had spread out before him a map of Europe corrected in his own hand. On this map Danzig and the Corridor were again attached to the Reich; as to Poland, she was to annex Lithuania and receive the port of Memel. (The interview of Berchtesgaden took place on January 5.) M. Beck is reported to have been astounded at this sight.

When restored to its proper place in Adolf Hitler's general plans, the problem of Danzig thus represents merely a detail, but a detail which today assumes the importance of a strategical point. It is actually on this point that German policy has been testing, and will continue to test, the resistance of its adversaries. With good reason, the question of Danzig has been compared to the question of the Sudetenland. Doubtless, a certain degree of compromise is possible between Germany and Poland on the subject of the Free City, but the fact remains that if Danzig should one day become a German base, Poland will as surely be under the sway of the Reich as Czechoslovakia has been since the occupation of the Sudetenland.

One must never lose sight of the fact that the true aim of German ambitions is, and remains, the colonization of the centre and of the East of Europe; in a word, the domination of the Continent. If Poland had accepted Hitler's proposals she would have really placed herself in the position of a vassal of the Reich, she would have given her allegiance to the policy of the Axis, whose vanguard she would have been in aggression against Russia.

I believe that I can say, without fear of error, that what interested Herr Hitler above all in the offers he made to Poland was less the return of Danzig than the point which he never mentioned, viz., the alliance against Moscow and the bonds of complicity and absolute dependence which it entailed for Warsaw in respect of Berlin. The great merit of the Polish Government is to have realized that, through this insidious policy, the very independence of its country has been at stake from the very beginning.

Now that the method of direct pressure has failed, will the National-Socialist leaders have recourse to indirect pressure? After attempting to play Poland against Russia, will they reverse their method in order to try to intimidate the Poles and play Moscow against Warsaw? Certain declarations, and the interpretation given by political circles in Berlin to the fact that M. Litvinov has fallen into disfavor might lead to this conclusion. But it is possible that they may be taking their wishes for facts in the matter.

We must not fail to "see the wood for the trees." The question is not whether we should fight, or not, for the sake of Danzig. It is up to Poland, when the time comes, to decide this question. The only concern of France and Great Britain is to be determined to prevent another coup by Hitler, and to check Nazi expansion while there is still time.


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