The French Yellow Book

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No. 123 :
M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Berlin, May 7, 1939.

I TAKE the liberty of drawing the especial attention of Your Excellency to the information contained in the enclosed report, our informant being in a particularly good position to know the intentions of the Führer and of his principal lieutenants.

His new declarations may be summed up as follows:

(1) M. Beck's speech will in no way alter the situation. The Führer is determined to secure the return of Danzig to Germany, as well as the reunion of East Prussia to the Reich.

(2) The Führer is patient and cautious, and will not tackle the question in a direct way, for he knows that in future France and Britain would not give way, and that the coalition which he would have to confront would be too strong. He will go on manoeuvring until his time comes.

(3) The Führer will come to an understanding to this effect with Russia. The day will come when he attains his aims by these means, without the Allies "having any reason, or even any intention, to intervene." It may be that we shall witness a fourth partition of Poland. In any case, "we shall soon see that something is brewing in the East."

(4) The equivocal attitude of Japan has contributed to Herr Hitler's orientation towards the U.S.S.R.

(5) When the Polish question has once been settled, and Germany's military supremacy definitely assured, Germany will be in a position to come to a conference.

For the above reasons I believe that, taken as a whole, and under the reservations made at the conclusion of this letter, the enclosed indications may be considered to reflect fairly exactly Herr Hitler's designs and to reveal the maneuvers which we must be prepared to counter. As is his habit, my informant became very animated in the course of the conversation, and it is very likely that he finally said much more than he was authorized to tell us. Especially as regards Russia, one cannot help being struck by the coincidence between the intentions attributed to the Führer and the resignation of M. Litvinov.

In my opinion, two facts of primary importance can be inferred from this conversation.

The first is that Herr Hitler does not want to go to war with Poland under the prevailing conditions: this confirms the information which I have already sent to Your Excellency; it stresses the full significance of the recovery effected in Europe by France and Great Britain.

The second is an entirely new one: the new orientation of Germany towards Russia.

If the intention of the Führer really is to attempt a rapprochement with the U.S.S.R., it remains to be seen how he intends to exploit this new policy. In my opinion, he may hope to draw advantage from it in three different ways:

(1) By arriving at a more or less tacit agreement with the U.S.S.R. which would assure him of the benevolent neutrality of that country in the event of a conflict, perhaps even of her complicity in a partition of Poland.

(2) By bringing, through the mere threat of a better understanding with the U.S.S.R., pressure simultaneously to bear on Japan and on Poland, in order to induce the former to sign a military alliance, and the latter to agree to the concessions he is asking for.

(3) By bringing the Western Powers, under the threat of collusion between Germany and Russia, to accept certain Soviet demands to which Poland and Rumania would be opposed, and thus to sow discord among the Allies.

On the other hand, it is not yet certain that Herr Hitler has already decided upon his line of conduct, and already made his choice between a real understanding with the U.S.S.R., or a simple diplomatic maneuver intended to reverse the situation in his favour. One would be rather inclined to adopt the latter conjecture. For Herr Hitler finds it difficult to reconcile his own views and those of his Party, and actual collusion with the Soviets, and to ignore completely the fact that not only the home but even the foreign policy of National-Socialism has been founded on an anti-Bolshevist ideology.

I need not stress the fact that the person concerned, who is in no respect an informer, intends, in his relations with us, to serve the cause of Germany. There is every reason to believe that apart from genuine indications, given deliberately or in the heat of the discussion, certain developments were deliberately designed to exercise pressure upon or to impress us. I should be inclined to place in this category the part of the conversation when he insisted on the state of exhaustion to which a prolonged semi-mobilization would reduce both ourselves and Poland. This may be the expression of a desire to see our military measures relaxed and to create a propitious moment for a new coup. The opinion held by the person concerned on the forces which from now onwards oppose the Reich and make the game a much too dangerous one for it, cannot fail to stimulate us to persevere in our military and diplomatic efforts and to remain permanently on the alert.


Resume of a conversation that took place on May 6 between a member of the Embassy (C) and one of the Führer's associates (X)


"M. Beck's speech," X declared, "may appear very ingenious and well-founded, from the legal point of view.

"As to ourselves, we cannot, nevertheless, admit his contentions. In 1934, Poland signed a treaty of non-aggression with us. Now the reciprocal guarantee that Poland has just concluded with Great Britain places the former under the obligation of attacking us in the event of the latter being in conflict with us. Does that not already contain a flagrant contradiction?

"Moreover, M. Beck in his speech has shown his bad faith. He was perfectly aware of Germany's attitude, which was dearly set forth to him by the Führer himself. What is more, M. Beck had declared that the requests of the German Government did not appear to him likely to raise any difficulties, and that he had undertaken to secure their acceptance by the Polish Government.

"Furthermore," continued X, "the Führer, as a man of action, scorns legal discussions; he remains on the plane of realities and necessities. He is firmly resolved, at all events, to settle the question of Danzig and of the reunion of East Prussia to the Reich, the solutions foreshadowed in the suggestions made by us at the beginning of the year representing a minimum."

"But then," C objected, "judging by the tone of your Press, this means war within a short time?"

"Not at all," replied X. "In this contest, as arranged by Great Britain, we are not the strongest. We realise perfectly that at present Great Britain and France are determined not to give way, especially France, for we are aware of M. Daladier's energy.

"Do you think that Hitler would be prepared to fight without holding all the trump cards? That would be contrary to his habit, which has brought him all his former successes without striking a single blow.

"Were you not struck, in his last speech, by the fact that he made no reference whatever to Russia? Have you not noticed the understanding manner in which this morning's newspapers-which, incidentally, had received precise instructions on the subject-speak of M. Molotov and of Russia? You must certainly have heard of certain negotiations that are going on, and of the journey of the Ambassador and the Military Attaché of the U.S.S.R. to Moscow; they had been received on the eve of their departure, the former by Herr von Ribbentrop, the latter by the Oberkommando of the Wehrmacht, and had been fully informed of the point of view of the Government of the Reich. I can really tell you no more, but you will learn some day that something is being prepared in the East. (Dass etwas im Osten im Gange ist.)"

"How can you reconcile this new policy with the declaration made by the Führer in one of his speeches that there is only one country with which he could never reach an agreement-Soviet Russia?"

X, stressing his answer with an evasive gesture, replied that it was not a question of haggling over words.

"When it is a case of carrying out a plan, there are no legal or ideological considerations that hold good. You are in a good position to know that a most Catholic King did not hesitate, in times gone by, to enter into an alliance with the Turks. Besides, are the two regimes actually different? Are they not very nearly identical in the realm of economics, although we, on our side, have in a certain measure maintained private enterprise? Briefly," concluded X, "the situation may be summed up as follows: the Poles fancy that they can be insolent to us, as they feel strong in the support of France and Britain, and believe that they can count upon the material assistance of Russia. They are mistaken in their calculations: just as Hitler did not consider himself in a position to settle the question of Austria and of Czechoslovakia without Italy's consent, he now would not dream of settling the German-Polish difference without Russia."

Then X, who was getting more and more excited, declared: "There have already been three partitions of Poland; well, believe me, you will witness a fourth!

"In any case, we will arrange this matter in such a way that you will have neither reason nor even intention (weder Grund noch sogar Absicht) to intervene. It will not be in a month, nor even in two months' time. Time is needed for adequate preparation. Hitler is not, as some of your journalists maintain, the man to take a sudden decision when he has a fit of temper.

"In home affairs, he knew how to wait until 1933 for the favourable opportunity to seize power. In foreign policy, all his successes are the result of careful reflection, of combinations studied down to their smallest details, and of the exploitation of all the mistakes and weaknesses of his opponents. In the matter of Poland, he will know how to bide his time.

"I may add finally that, however unpopular a war on account of the question might have been, a war against Poland would find favour with the masses, by reason of the inherent hatred of the German, and of the Prussian in particular, for the Pole."

According to X, Hitler is very dissatisfied with the attitude recently adopted by Japan, whose aims he cannot clearly discern. The uncertainty of her policy has indisposed Hitler towards her and has partly accounted for his resolutions concerning the U.S.S.R.


X insisted on the definite and final (endgültig) renunciation of the Führer's claims on Alsace-Lorraine, and on the fact that no difference of opinion separates the Reich from France. He is surprised at all the military preparations that have recently been made in France, and especially at the reinforcement of the Maginot Line, about which, said he, the German Secret Service is fully informed. "If this were not the case, I beg you to believe that Admiral Canaris and his staff might as well pack their bags (sonst könnte der Admiral Canaris mit seinem ganzen Laden aufpacken). All these measures are the result of an active war-psychosis which is fraying the people's nerves: they cannot fail in the long run to exhaust France, without any benefit to her. The semi-mobilization of France, as well as that of Poland, have not been, on our side, countered by any similar measure."


"All Germany's military efforts," continued X "are exclusively directed towards an industrial mobilization and an intensification of armaments. The Führer has even declared that he would not hesitate to order the cessation of the great public works in course of completion (Berlin, Nuremberg ...) in order to devote the country's entire manpower and all its materials to national defence.

"Nevertheless, in the Führer's intentions," said X in conclusion, "once the Polish matter has been settled, the calling of a general conference will be a possibility. To that conference Germany would come backed by the full weight of all her military strength."

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