Coulondre M. (French Ambassador in Berlin) to M. Georges Bonnet (Minister for Foreign Affairs). Berlin, December 15, 1938.
M. Coulondre (French Ambassador in Berlin)
to M. Georges Bonnet (Minister for Foreign Affairs).
Berlin, December 15, 1938.
THE recent conversations between Your Excellency and the Foreign Minister of the Reich must have enabled you to ascertain the dispositions of the German Government as regards the chief political problems of the moment. It is, however, not unimportant perhaps that I should communicate to you, if only for purposes of comparison, the impressions I have received from my first contacts with German circles.
(1) The establishment of good relations with France meets, at the present moment, the general desire of the German people. All the leading personalities I have approached have, without exception, expressed their views on this subject in the most emphatic manner and without the slightest reserve; they have all assured me that Germany desired an understanding with France on the basis of the territorial status quo, and wished to make an end of the age-long quarrel between the two countries.
This sentiment, the sincerity of which cannot be questioned, also found expression in the satisfaction with which the signing of the Franco-German declaration of December 6 was received.
This feeling is explained by reasons which, no doubt, may vary according to the different circles in which it can be observed.
The German people, which taken as a whole is peacefully minded, sees in the better understanding of the two countries a guarantee of peace. Those who are disturbed by the excesses of National-Socialist "dynamism" and by the political and economic tension brought about by the regime, are hoping for some relaxation in the internal and external situation, which might help Germany to return gradually to more normal conditions of life. As to the Party, it is evident that they wanted an agreement with France essentially because of the security it offers in the West, if enterprises in other directions are contemplated.
(2) The will for expansion in the East, as a matter of fact, seems to me as undeniable on the part of the Third Reich, as its disposition to put aside-at least for the present-any idea of conquest in the West; the one is a corollary of the other. The first half of Herr Hitler's programme-the integration of the Deutschtum into the Reich-has been carried out more or less completely; now the hour of the "Lebensraum" has come. The insistence with which it has been explained to me that Germany has no claims in the direction of France would have been enough to enlighten me. But I received even more explicit information; all those with whom I held conversations, with the exception of Herr Hitler, spoke to me, in different ways, and always with intentional vagueness, of the necessity for German expansion in Eastern Europe, Herr von Ribbentrop spoke of "the creation of zones of influence in the East and South-East"; Field-Marshal Goering, of "an essentially economic penetration in the South-East."
I have not personally received very definite confidential information on this subject; but it appears that little by little one can see the outlines of a great German enterprise emerge from what is still nebulous. To secure mastery over Central Europe by reducing Czechoslovakia and Hungary to a state of vassalage and then to create a Greater Ukraine under German control-this is what essentially appears to be the leading idea now accepted by the Nazi leaders, and doubtless by Herr Hitler himself.
Unfortunately the vassalage of Czechoslovakia is almost complete by this time. "My country is now nothing more than a province," my Czech colleague said only yesterday. The German Secret Service is said to be already only working there with Poland in mind and certain German circles are reported to have gone so far as to declare that from now on the Czech army will be called on to play the same part as the Bavarian army under the Second Reich. The construction of the motor road between Breslau and Vienna and of the canal between the Oder and the Danube will be entrusted exclusively to Czech labour. From two equally trustworthy sources I have learnt that in the near future a German-Czech currency agreement will be concluded and will soon be followed by an economic and monetary union.
In Hungary, where resistance will evidently be more determined, they will first endeavour to establish a sort of economic vassalage, and to ensure for the German Army the right of transit, which has become indispensable for action in the east, since Hungarian territory cuts across the Slovak railway.
With regard to the Ukraine, it has been talked about by the whole staff of the National-Socialist Party for the past ten days. Dr. Rosenberg's Centre of Studies, Dr. Goebbels's Services and the "Ost-Europa" organization under the former Minister, Herr Curtius, as well as the Intelligence Service of the German Army, are working on the question. It looks as if the ways and means had not yet been decided upon, but the aim appears to be well defined: to create a Greater Ukraine which would become Germany's granary. In order to achieve this Rumania must be subdued, Poland won over, and Soviet Russia dispossessed; German dynamism is not to be stopped by any of these obstacles, and in military circles, they already talk of the advance to the Caucasus and to Baku.
It is unlikely that Herr Hitler will attempt to achieve his plans concerning the Ukraine by direct military action. It would be contrary to the principles he has professed at different times, and according to which the regime wants neither an ideological war nor the annexation of heterogeneous populations. It seems, moreover, that he has not yet decided on the means of action. Among those who approach him, a political operation is thought of which would repeat, on a larger scale, that of the Sudeten: propaganda in Poland, in Rumania and in Soviet Russia in favour of Ukrainian independence; support eventually given by diplomatic pressure and by the action of armed bands; Ruthenia would be the focus of the movement. Thus by a curious turn of Fate, Czechoslovakia, which had been established as a bulwark to stem the German drive, now serves the Reich as a battering-ram to demolish the gates to the East.
(3) Nobody in Germany has mentioned the Colonies to me. For the moment at least, only certain specialized circles are occupied with that question. When Herr von Ribbentrop alluded to the demonstrations in France following the German claims it was only to declare that the question might be discussed in five or six years' time. He expressed himself in precisely similar terms when speaking to one of my colleagues, which points to the existence of instructions on the subject. The Fuhrer gave the Belgian Ambassador the definite impression that he was not interested in the question, and that he only raised it from time to time to prevent the "rights of ownership" of Germany from falling into abeyance. The Nazi leaders use the method of Descartes, taking up each question in turn; above all, their appetites, whetted both by their needs and by their ambitions, drive them towards the East, towards the "glorious adventure" and the great achievement of the regime, which they are eager to undertake.
(4) It would appear that the difficulties of the economic situation contribute largely to this haste. The shortage of foreign currency following on the enormous expenses for armament entails ever increasing restrictions, particularly of food stuffs. The population is badly nourished, and sometimes probably even underfed. Unemployment has disappeared, in fact there is actually a shortage of labour, as the manufacture of substitutes requires much more labour than the preparation of natural products, but the working men, who are forced to work ten hours a day, are showing signs of weariness, and I have heard of recent cases of ca' canny strikes that were fairly serious. Competent authorities which do not belong to the Party hold that the financial and economic capacity of the country is strained to the limit. But most of the leaders refuse to admit this. In order to sustain and reinforce this preparatory war economy, there is need of a granary, of mines, and of labour; the Ukraine is at the door of the Reich.
(5) The situation within the Party itself appears fairly tense. Well-informed people think that they can detect the usual premonitory signs of internal convulsions in the Third Reich, namely: unrest among the population, a general feeling of uneasiness and anxiety, outbursts of indignation and unexpectedly frank criticism of the regime on the part of high functionaries, officers and Party members, especially after the pogroms-in a word, the atmosphere of a thunderstorm. It is said that the tension between the Fuhrer's principal lieutenants has increased: Herr Himmler, for instance, is supposed to have made vain efforts to bring about a reconciliation between Field-Marshal Goering and Herr von Ribbentrop.
I have not been in Berlin long enough to be able to reach personal conclusions on this last point. It certainly does not seem to me that the personal prestige of the Fuhrer has suffered. He is above the clouds that pass over public opinion, as he is above the quarrels that divide his entourage. But it is quite possible that, among other advantages, he will see in a Ukrainian adventure an opportunity to divert the attention of his people from the internal difficulties now increasing in a dangerous manner.