The French Yellow Book

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No. 195 :
M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Berlin, August 15, 1939.

ON the morrow of the discussions between Count Ciano, Herr von Ribbentrop, and the Führer (August 11, 12, and 13) the situation, as seen from Berlin, is far from clear. It is not possible to discern with any degree of certainty either the immediate intentions of the leaders of the Reich, nor the manner in which they intend, at a given moment, to escape from the present deadlock nor to what extent they are really prepared to run the risk of a general conflict.

There are, however, certain facts which control the situation:

(1) The military preparations of the Reich are being speeded up and intensified, and it may be accepted that Germany has today reached an advanced stage of mobilization. These factors have increased the war psychosis which is becoming more and more prevalent among the German population;

(2) In the Danzig problem, the Reich has become still more entangled, and over and above the question of the Free City, those of the German-Polish frontiers, and, in a more general way of the east of Europe, have been clearly put before German public opinion;

(3) In spite of the categorical statements of the Reich Press, it is still impossible to gauge the degree of understanding and effective solidarity already achieved between Rome and Berlin;

(4) In addition to symptoms which call for the utmost vigilance, others would seem to indicate that Berlin has not yet decided to precipitate matters, and that they have not given up all idea of temporizing.

(1) For several weeks past it has been evident that the Reich was taking all necessary measures to have considerable forces under arms from the middle of August (August 15 to 20), and by that date to have the country's military preparedness in all directions at an advanced stage. The measures observed at the present time can therefore hardly occasion surprise. On the other hand, they can no longer be explained only by the necessity-as officially pleaded-of training the troops (regulars or reserves). If compared with the military measures of last autumn, they are more and more clearly distinguished from the latter by the following features:

Extreme care is taken to maintain secrecy, and secrecy is effectively maintained to a large extent thanks to methods of concealment developed almost to a fine art;

Mobilization is effected on a much more extensive scale; the civilian population-in so far as it is not called up-is subject to requisitioning in much greater measure. This fact is particularly appreciable in the case of female labour; levies and requisitioning of all kinds (vehicles, petrol, livestock, sundry commodities) have attained a volume so great that the economic activity of the country is seriously disorganized, while stocks and their replenishment are hampered;

The anxiety to put Germany in the best possible condition to sustain a war is such that, however great the part played by bluff, it is impossible to avoid the impression that more serious contingencies are not set aside. Such, moreover, is the feeling of the German population, among whom the fear of a war is universal;

Up to the present, if we except the assembling of troops in many places in Upper Silesia and in East Prussia, no important concentrations constituting an immediate threat to Poland have yet been observed. Technical experts, however, are of opinion that in the present state of German mobilization such concentrations could be effected in a few days.

(2) If, at the time of the Polish ultimatum of August 5, some surprise and some wavering was noticeable in the attitude of the Nazis in Danzig and in the Reich, Germany was, nevertheless, not slow in regaining her self possession.

After the Senate climbed down in the matter of the Polish Customs officers, the leaders of the Reich, tried, as we had for several days been given to understand from the German side they would, to take over the diplomatic representation of the interests of Danzig. This was the meaning of the verbal note handed by the German Government to Warsaw on August 9. The Polish reply of the 11th in which the Warsaw Government declared that it would consider any fresh German intervention in the differences between Danzig and Poland as an act of aggression, cut short this attempt. This reply appears to have profoundly irritated the Nazi leaders and the Führer himself.

Meanwhile, the campaign in favour of the return of Danzig to the Reich was becoming more violent. On the evening of August 10, Gauleiter Forster, back from Berchtesgaden, made a speech in Danzig at a demonstration organized in order to testify to the will of the Danzig population to be reincorporated in the Reich. In this speech, drafted in accordance with instructions received in Obersalzberg, he expressed the conviction that the Führer would know how to realise the unanimous will of the people of Danzig to return to their German Fatherland. Two days later, back in Germany once more, he delivered, in his native town of Fürth, a second speech in which some thought they recognized the Führer's style, and in the course of which he exclaimed: "Whatever happens, Danzig will certainly, in the long run, return one day to the Reich."

The speeches of Herr Forster, and likewise the articles published at the same time in the Reich Press marked moreover a new phase in the anti-Polish campaign. Herr Forster not only explicitly stated the German claims with regard to Danzig; he called the Polish State itself to account just as the Czechoslovak State was called to account last year. He denied Poland the right of existence as an independent state. This argument was abundantly developed in semi-official newspapers such as the National Zeitung of Essen, which, in its issue of August 13, proclaimed that the existence of Poland was not in the least necessary to the European balance of power. The period of German claims to Pomerelia, Poznan, and Upper Silesia, was thus at once outstripped.

The arguments now put forward are, moreover, strangely similar to those which were produced before against the Republic of M. Benes: total incapacity of the Government; heterogeneous character of a population of which one third is made up of minorities; and strategic weaknesses. Finally, accompanying the threats and ill-treatment alleged to be directed against the City of Danzig and the members of the German minority in Poland appeared the further argument, which had also been advanced at the time of the German-Czech crisis, namely that of German honour.

Certain newspapers even went so far as to declare openly that the Polish problem was in itself only one particular case, and that it was now time to settle the "Eastern problems."

It must, nevertheless, be observed that, up to the present, no member of the Reich Government has taken up a position over the Danzig problem so definite as to make a final breach inevitable. The Führer has not referred to the subject since April 28. From what is known of his discussions with M. Burckhardt, at the time of the latter's visit to Berchtesgaden on August 12, it would seem that he has not altered his attitude since. Nor have any of his Lieutenants made any definite pronouncements. The newspapers themselves, while proclaiming their faith in the inevitable return of the Free City to the Reich, have not yet mentioned any date, nor declared that this return would have to be secured "in one way or another" (so oder so).

(3) The German Press has not given any precise information concerning the conversations at Salzburg and Berchtesgaden. In so far as any items of information have been given, these have sometimes proved contradictory. To give one instance, certain newspapers have maintained that Germany and Italy had, of course, examined the question of the revision of the order of things established in Central and South-Eastern Europe by the treaties of 1919. Others have declared that neither Germany nor Italy had ever contemplated giving the Western Powers the pleasure of such a digression.

From what it has been possible to observe in Berlin, the predominant impression left by the German-Italian conversations may be summed up as follows: Italy has endeavoured to exercise a moderating influence, to restrain the Reich. But the results of this attempt are still uncertain.

(4) The situation created by the Salzburg and Berchtesgaden conversations is therefore precarious. Certain indications, it is true, permit the hope that the danger of war is not immediate. The crops have not yet been entirely gathered in; the harvest was very late and was partly damaged by the very abundant rains of the last few weeks. Work on the fortifications is not completed either on the Western Front, or on the German-Polish frontier. The preparations for the demonstrations at Tannenberg (August 27) and Nuremberg (September 2-10) are apparently being continued. The members of the Diplomatic Corps have just been invited to the Congress, which, as nearly a million Germans are expected to attend, will disorganize the railway service for several weeks.

Nevertheless, these indications, cannot be considered entirely conclusive.

The principal dangers of war may, therefore, be reduced to these two:

(a) Illusion as to the attitude of France and Great Britain.

(b) The hope of being able to destroy the Polish Army before the Western Powers have been able to give effective assistance, and of having by this means created a "war map" which would set London and Paris thinking.

(a) There is no doubt that certain of the Nazi leaders and, in particular, Herr von Ribbentrop, still hope to give some sort of satisfaction to the Western Powers by restricting the German claims to Danzig, setting aside, provisionally, the question of the Corridor and other claims against Poland.

(b) The idea that the German Army could crush the Polish Army and take Warsaw in a few weeks, or even a few days, before France and England had time to intervene, or even to come to a decision, is fairly widespread among the public and in certain official circles. The Führer himself is said to consider the undertaking as not impossible. It is said that certain officers in his circle encourage him in that view.

What is most likely at the present time, is that Germany, while endeavouring to carry through the first solution (a) is continuing to push on her preparations with a view to being able if necessary to attempt the second solution (b).

The best means of counteracting this manoeuvre obviously aimed at gaining possession of Danzig in order to prepare the ruin of Poland, to demoralize the small States guaranteed by France and England, and to bring about the collapse of the entire system, built up to resist aggression is, it would seem, to invite the Germans, if they were to submit proposals to us to this effect, to address themselves to Warsaw.

At the same time it is, however, essential, in view of the extent of the military measures adopted by the Reich, that we should not allow ourselves to be forestalled by the German mobilization. Moreover, it is by maintaining our military forces on a level with theirs that we shall most effectively help to persuade the Reich that we are fully resolved to keep our engagements with our Polish allies, and, if need be to intervene immediately in their favour.


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