The French Yellow Book

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No. 145 :
M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Berlin, June 27, 1939.

As I have previously pointed out, diplomatic circles in Berlin are somewhat pessimistic about the development of the international situation from the month of August onwards.

It is possible that the approach of the period when the crisis of 1938 broke out has something to do with this state of mind. It is also likely that most of the heads of the diplomatic missions have received information similar to that which has reached this Embassy. This may be classified under three headings:

(1) Activity within the German Army. The number of reservists called up is estimated, by our Military Attaché, very roughly at 600,000 and shows a tendency to increase. Maneuvers are in progress in the fortified zone of the West.

(2) Military measures in Italy and Bulgaria. Large-scale maneuvers involving considerable bodies of troops are planned in Italy for the month of August. The Bulgarian Army is expected to mobilize two classes at the same time.

(3) Various indications: advice given by high German officials to foreign families not to remain in Germany during August; the general time-limit set for the validity of the passports of the male population; information to the effect that the Reichswehr has been instructed to hold itself in readiness for August 15.

It is a noteworthy fact that, whereas a rather marked anxiety is beginning to arise among the middle classes, Germans in influential circles seem rather optimistic and are obviously trying to reassure foreigners whom they meet.

One sentence struck me particularly in a statement made to one of my colleagues by one of the best-informed personages in the party. "In the event of Danzig proclaiming its return to the Reich," he said, "war would break out only if we were compelled to defend ourselves against aggression." This passage reminded me of certain words spoken by the State Secretary in the course of my last interview with him. After telling me that in his opinion no tension was to be foreseen in the near future, he added: "We have no intention of attacking Poland." When I pointed out to him that in this case no conflict was to be feared, since Poland was not going to attack Germany, he replied that serious incidents might occur, and quoted, as an example, the possible murder of a German consul. In the farewell audience which he granted to the Argentine Ambassador on June 26, Herr Hitler also told him more or less plainly that he had no intention of attacking Poland.

Even if one admits that these various pointers express the real intentions of the German Government, one may ask how far they are reassuring. They may suggest that the Reich is prepared to temporize, but they may also be a preparation of the ground for an annexation of Danzig conducted from within the city.

One may suppose that, among the various plans considered by the Nazi leaders for imposing their own solution of the problem of the Free City, the idea of stirring up a "spontaneous" movement and inducing the Danzig population itself to proclaim its return to the Reich, is particularly engaging their attention.

In this event the plan of action would probably be as follows: At a moment chosen by the Führer, the National-Socialists of Danzig would proclaim the return of the city to the Reich. With their own resources, and without calling upon German troops, they would cut off the little Polish garrison of the Westerplatte, together with the Polish Customs officials, and await Warsaw's reaction. The Polish Government would then have no other course than to occupy the city by force in order to re-establish the status quo, which would serve as a pretext for the launching of German military action.

The object of such a maneuver is obvious. "If the Poles undertook the forcible suppression of a 'people's' movement," a notability of the regime recently said to one of my colleagues, "it would be they who would be the aggressors. They would be taking the initiative in violence. In such a case, would Great Britain and France be justified in attacking us?"

It is thus calculated in Berlin that, when the right time comes, it would be possible for German propaganda to trouble the waters and create confusion, at least in the public opinion of neutral countries. Ever since the Austrian and Sudeten affairs for that matter, Nazi policy has shown itself a past-master in the art of fomenting internal crises and profiting by them.

Such a conjecture makes it possible to reconcile the assurances given in various quarters that Germany "will not attack" with the indication of approaching tension gathered elsewhere. The latest information received from our consul in Danzig seems to show that this plan has already been set in motion, at least in its early phase. The Reich's preparations in the Free City are being rapidly intensified, and Herr Himmler is said to have arrived incognito in order to inspect their progress. Everything that is happening suggests that the Nazi Government wishes the armed forces in the city to be so strong that, when the appointed time arrives, the Führer may be able to take possession of it without any need either for a Putsch by the Party or for the dispatch of German troops.

The Warsaw Government has doubtless taken such a possibility into account, and I know that it has been considered by the staff of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. German policy, therefore, cannot reasonably count upon taking the other side by surprise or confusing the question ad libitum by playing upon the word "aggressor." Moreover, the declaration read in the House of Commons by Mr. Chamberlain on March 31 on behalf of the British and French Governments, and the statement made by the President of the Council on April 13 are sufficiently explicit to convince the National-Socialist leaders that any act which infringed Poland's vital interests would entitle it to ask for the immediate support of France and Great Britain.

Nevertheless, in order to avoid any misunderstanding on this subject, one may ask whether it is not high time to speak plainly and frustrate this possible maneuver by dispelling any illusions which may still be held in Berlin. If Your Excellency agrees, it would be desirable to specify, for the benefit of the responsible leaders of German policy and within the framework of the Franco-British declaration, that any forcible action undertaken within the Free City contrary to the statute -i.e., action which, in view of the allegiance of the National-Socialists of Danzig to the Nazi party, could only be provoked and promoted by the Reich-and which Poland should feel bound to resist, would automatically lead to assistance being rendered by France and Great Britain. Such useful specific information might be given at the earliest opportunity by Paris and London. This would bring about the collapse of the elaborate presence which the German leaders seem to be so industriously building up.

In any case, in the absence of further information it does not appear that any German action in this direction is imminent. At the Polish Embassy, where calm and resolution still prevail, it is considered that the alarmist rumours about German troop movements towards the Polish frontier (it was reported this morning that the Marshal Goering Regiment had left Berlin for Pillau, but this rumour is unconfirmed) might well come from German sources. According to this interpretation, National-Socialist agencies are seeking in this way to foster confusion by spreading false news in the hope of masking in advance any real military movements when they take place.

In periods of fermentation, the policy of the Hitler Government usually surrounds itself with a smoke-screen. We can only stand to gain by making this maneuver ineffective through being on our guard against any surprise.


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