David Irving



Hitler’s train idled on a siding in outer Pomerania until 9:30 A.M. on September 26 and then began the eight-hour haul back to Berlin.  The journey passed in heavy silence.  Hitler went into the command coach, but Keitel was in Berlin and Jodl must have been in his private compartment, for only Colonel von Vormann was there, seated at his customary place next to the telephones, writing and sorting the heaps of papers that had accumulated.  For the next few hours Hitler spoke no word but restlessly paced the length of the swaying carriage while the train drew closer to Berlin.  There were no messages, no calls, no visitors.  Just after 5 P.M. the train reached Berlin’s Stettin station, unheralded by any crowds or scenes of jubilation.  The motor pool had sent cars to pick them up ;  Hitler and his entourage drove almost stealthily to the Reich Chancellery, where dinner was served at the large round table in his residence.  The atmosphere was funereal.  After a while Hitler abruptly rose, bid the others good night, and retired to his rooms.

Without doubt his thoughts now revolved around the next step he must take :  could the western powers be made to see reason, or must he defeat them as he had defeated Poland ?  In January 1944 he was secretly to address his skeptical generals with words that he might well have been thinking now.  “If I am now taken to task about what concrete prospects there are of ending the war, then I should just like to ask you to look at the history of wars and tell me when in the major campaigns any concrete idea emerged as to how each would end.  For the most part there was not even a concrete idea as to how the campaign should be conducted.  Moltke himself wrote that it is erroneous to expect that any plan of war can be drawn up that will hold good after the first battles.”  In the same speech he was to explain :  “In my position one can have no other master than one’s own judgment, one’s conscience, and one’s sense of duty.  Those are the only masters to whose commands I bow.”

The army had already taken matters into its own hands, issuing in mid-September 1939 an order for the withdrawal of most of the combat divisions from Poland and their partial demobilization.  Keitel warned General Halder that such an order was unthinkable without Hitler’s consent ;  and when Hitler heard of it he sat sharply upright and ejaculated, “We are going to attack the west, and we are going to do it this October !”

There are small indications that Hitler had known all along that he was on the threshold of a long and bitter war with Britain—that Britain would not withdraw even now that Poland no longer existed.  As early as September 5 the F¸hrer instructed Walther Hewel—Ribbentrop’s liaison officer on Hitler’s staff, who as a student had spent several months with him in Landsberg prison in 1923—to use every possible diplomatic channel to rescue his disconsolate friend “Putzi” Hanfstaengl from the consequences of his own stubbornness in London and arrange his escape to Germany.(1)  A few days later, the British Cabinet announced that Britain was preparing for a war that was expected to last at least three years ;  this blunt statement evidently jolted Hitler, for he was still referring to it three weeks later.  Britain was clearly going to play for time until her rearmament was complete—and this was the one development Hitler feared most.  On the evening of September 12 he confidentially disclosed to Colonel Schmundt that as soon as Poland had been defeated he would swing around and attack in the west ;  he must exploit the western weakness while he could.  But he deliberately kept General von Brauchitsch uninformed of his thinking.

A few days later, on the fourteenth, he discussed with his chief engineer, Fritz Todt, architect of the West Wall fortifications, the need for a proper permanent headquarters site in the west, as his special train would be too vulnerable to air attack.  One site was debated and discarded, and another near Munstereifel was eventually selected.  To his adjutants, Hitler explained that his Great War experience in Flanders had taught him that until January the weather would hold good for an offensive, after which it would be imprudent to launch a large-scale campaign before May.  He admitted that he did not expect the victorious campaign in Poland to influence the western powers ;  he proposed to make one more peace offer to Britain, but he had small hopes for it.  He did not seriously expect Britain to come to terms until the Wehrmacht was arrayed on the English Channel, he said.  On the twentieth, General Keitel, chief of the OKW (Wehrmacht High Command), warned a member of his staff that Hitler was planning to launch an offensive in the west as soon as it became clear there was no chance of reaching an understanding with the western powers.

In a long speech, Hitler revealed this intention to his startled supreme commanders on September 27, the day after his return to the Chancellery :  what disturbed the army was Hitler’s insistence that since German superiority of arms and men was only temporary, the offensive against France must therefore begin before the end of 1939, and, as in 1914, it would have to be carried through Belgium and at least the southern tip of a Holland he hoped would bow before the inevitability of such action.  Hitler explained that he was unconvinced of Belgium’s honest neutrality, for she was clearly fortified only along her frontier with Germany, and there were indications that she would permit a rapid invasion by the French and British forces massing on her western frontier—perhaps a secret military convention already existed between Belgium and the western powers to that end.  (In this belief he was mistaken.)  Thus the Ruhr, seat of Germany’s armaments industries, would be lost and so would the war.  He ordered General von Brauchitsch to establish the earliest date by which the German buildup could be complete.  Aware that Brauchitsch inwardly rebelled against this new campaign, Hitler tolerated no discussion of his decision or of the prospects.  He terminated the conference by shredding his brief notes and tossing them into the fire burning in the study grate.

As he privately informed Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg on September 29, he intended to propose a grand peace conference to arrange an armistice, demobilization, and the general settlement of outstanding problems, but if need be he would launch an offensive in the west.  He was not afraid of the Maginot line.  If the British would not accept the peace he offered, then he would destroy them.  And Baron Ernst von Weizs”cker recorded Hitler as saying in his presence that day that the new offensive might cost Germany a million men—but it would cost the enemy the same number, and the enemy could ill afford the loss.  Hitler repeated his arguments to his army and army group commanders when he assembled them in the Chancellery the next day to receive his thanks for the Polish triumph.

Warsaw had just fallen.  It had been at the mercy of German ground and air bombardment since September 10.  Elsewhere in Poland the towns had largely escaped damage.  In Cracow, only the railroad station and the airfield had been bombed.  But this was not to be the fate of Warsaw, whose commandant Hitler suspected of stalling for time in which to fortify the city against the encircling German armies.  By the twenty-first it was clear that Warsaw would have to be taken by storm.  The two hundred foreign diplomats were allowed to escape through the German lines, and the artillery bombardment of the city’s vital gas, power, and water installations was stepped up.  On the twenty-fifth Hitler had visited the Tenth and Eighth armies ;  the latter had a hundred and fifty batteries of artillery drawn up for the final bombardment due to begin next day.  From the roof of a sports stadium Hitler and a handful of his followers watched with binoculars as the artillery pounded Warsaw.  Blaskowitz’s final report states :

On September 25 the F¸hrer and Commander in Chief of the Wehrmacht visited the Warsaw front with the Commander in Chief of the army and his Chief of Staff.  He was briefed on the Eighth Army’s plan of attack :  according to this the main artillery assault on the fortress will commence early on September 26.  Until then only identified military objectives, enemy batteries, and vital installations such as gas, water, and power stations are being bombarded by ground and air forces.  Thirteenth Army Corps’ attack is to begin at 0800 hrs on September 26, followed by Ninth Army Corps one day later ;  opportunities of improving on the opening positions before then will be exploited....

After the plan of attack has been outlined broadly to him and been given the detailed approval of the Commander in Chief of the army, the F¸hrer, who is deeply troubled by the suffering that lies in store for the population of the fortress [Warsaw], suggests that one more last attempt should be made to persuade the military command of Warsaw to abandon its lunatic course.  He guarantees that the officers of the fortress will be granted honorable captivity and may retain their daggers if they surrender forthwith, and orders that the NCOs and troops are to be assured of their early release after the necessary formalities.

Millions of new leaflets publishing these terms were dropped over Warsaw that evening.  The Polish commandant made no response.  Early on the twenty-sixth, therefore, the target of the artillery bombardment was changed to the city itself, and the infantry assault began.  The next day it was all over ;  the Poles had capitulated with virtually no further military resistance.  For a week there had been no water in the city ;  the railroads were in ruins ;  there was no food or electric power.  Unburied in the ruins lay some twenty-six thousand civilian dead, over twice the total German military casualties of the entire Polish campaign.  On October 2, General Rommel and Colonel Schmundt visited Warsaw and afterward reported to Hitler on the terrible scenes of destruction.  Rommel wrote to his wife the next day :  “All went according to plan yesterday.  Flight to Berlin, flight to Warsaw, talks and inspection there, flight back to Berlin, report in the Reich Chancellery, and dinner at the F¸hrer’s table.  Warsaw is in bad shape.  There is hardly a building not in some way damaged or with its windows intact. ... The people must have suffered terribly.  For seven days there has been no water, no power, no gas, and no food.... The mayor estimates there are forty thousand dead and injured.... Apart from that everything is quiet.  The people are probably relieved that we have come, and that their ordeal is over.  The NSV(2) and the ‘Bavaria’ rescue convoy and the field kitchens are besieged by starving, exhausted people.  It’s raining here in Berlin, and there are low-lying clouds.  In Warsaw the weather was fine but cloudy.”

A pall of death still hung over Warsaw as Hitler flew in for his big victory parade there on October 5.  The stench of rotting bodies soured the Polish air.  Handpicked regiments of the finest infantry divisions stomped past in a parade-march that could not have been improved upon, but according to his closest staff the F¸hrer was unnerved by the spectacle of the death and destruction all about.  Outwardly he remained hard and callous.  To the foreign journalists swarming around him as he returned to the airfield he said menacingly, “Take a good look around Warsaw.  That is how I can deal with any European city.  I’ve got enough ammunition.”  But when he saw the banquet that the army had prepared at the airfield, either his stomach rebelled or his instinct for bad publicity warned him not to sit at a vast, horseshoe-shaped table with spotless white linen and sumptuous food at a time when hundreds of thousands of Warsaw’s inhabitants were starving.  He turned on his heel and instructed Keitel and his staff to follow him immediately to the aircraft.  He had wanted to eat at a field kitchen with his troops, he said.

The frontiers of eastern Europe had now been agreed upon between Germany and the Soviet Union.  Hitler had insisted that his foreign minister personally fly to Moscow to settle the details.  Since Ribbentrop was unenthusiastic about the mission, Hitler told him with some feeling :  “Laying down the definitive frontiers between Asia and Europe for the next thousand years is after all a task worthy of the foreign minister of the Grossdeutsches Reich !”  The partition of Poland had caused some anguish in Germany.  G–ring, a fanatical huntsman—a member of what Hitler called “that green freemasonry of men”—turned greedy eyes on the forests of Bialystok, rich with game, and he persuaded General Hans Jeschonnek to telephone Hitler’s train to point up the importance of the Bialystok wood supply to the German economy ;  Hitler had bellowed with laughter.  “He talks of wood and he means stags !” and he instructed that Bialystok should nevertheless be assigned to the Russian side of the demarcation line.

Ribbentrop settled the line on a small-scale map of Europe in Stalin’s Kremlin office on September 28.  Whereas the line provisionally agreed upon in mid-September had run along the Vistula River, it now followed the Bug River far to the east, since Stalin had also assigned to Germany the districts of Warsaw and Lublin in exchange for the Baltic state of Lithuania, which the August pact had placed within Germany’s sphere of influence.  So now the German troops who had advanced to the Bug, only to be ordered to withdraw to the Vistula, had to march eastward once again, spanning the difficult terrain for the third time in as many weeks.  Stalin offset the only other dissatisfaction with the partition—the fact that the oil-producing region at Lvov (Lemberg) was on his side of the line—by a promise to supply Germany with three hundred thousand tons of the oil annually.  All in all, as Ribbentrop remarked to Hitler on his return to Berlin, talking with Stalin and the other Kremlin potentates he had felt he was among comrades barely distinguishable from his National Socialist acquaintances.

Rosenberg almost choked when he heard of Ribbentrop’s flattery of Stalin.  He saw the strategic weakness in the new eastern frontiers almost at once.  The new demarcation line would give Germany no common frontier with Romania, thus Germany’s sole railway link with the Romanian oil fields and the Black Sea would run through Soviet-controlled territory.  As another minister commented to Rosenberg, “If the Russians now march into the Baltic states, we shall have lost the Baltic as well, strategically speaking ;  Moscow will be more powerful than ever and they will be able to act against us in concert with the West any time they choose.”  Rosenberg probably put this view to Hitler with some emphasis when he saw him on the twenty-ninth.  In fact the indecent haste with which Stalin moved to take up the options extended to him gravely embarrassed Ribbentrop’s ministry ;  it can only be explained by the Soviet leader’s alarm at the speed with which Hitler’s Wehrmacht had polished off Poland and by his fear that peace might break out.  Under pressure from him Estonia conceded air and naval bases to Russia on September 29, and Latvia and Lithuania followed suit a few days later.  Finland, however, made it clear from the outset she would offer the most determined resistance to similar Russian demands.

For the first two weeks of October 1939, Hitler unquestionably wavered between continuing the fight—which meant launching an almost immediate offensive in the west—and making peace with the remaining belligerents on the best terms he could get.  The fact that he had ordered the Wehrmacht to get ready for “Operation Yellow” (Fall Gelb, the attack on France and the Low Countries) in no way detracts from the reality of his peace offensive.  Whatever his final decision, there was no time to be lost.

Hitler saw powerful arguments against stopping the fighting while the Reich’s military advantage was at its height.  Nevertheless, he would probably have settled for what he had already conquered—if only to be able to return to his grandiose architectural dreams.  Besides, Germany would have needed at least fifty years to digest the new territories and carry out the enforced settlement programs planned by Heinrich Himmler to fortify the German blood in the east.  Thus Hitler’s peace feelers toward London were sincere—not just a ploy to drive a wedge between Britain and France.  Weizs”cker wrote early in October :  “The attempt to wind up the war now is for real.  I myself put the chances at 20 percent, [Hitler] at 50 percent ;  his desire is 100 percent.  If he obtained peace, the thesis that Britain would sacrifice Poland would be proven quasi right.  And besides, it would eliminate the awkward decision as to how to reduce Britain by military means.”  Early in September G–ring had hinted to the British through Birger Dahlerus, the Swedish businessman whom Hitler had already accepted as an unofficial intermediary to London during August, that Germany would be willing to restore sovereignty to a Poland shorn of the old German provinces excised from the Fatherland at the end of the Great War ;  there would also be an end to the persecution of the Jews and a reduction in German armaments.  The British response had been a cautious readiness to listen to the detailed German proposals.

But since these proposals had been made, the Russians, as per their agreement with the Nazis, had seized eastern Poland.  Hitler told G–ring and Dahlerus in Berlin late on September 26 that if the British still wanted to salvage anything of Poland, they would have to make haste.  They would have to send a negotiator who would take him seriously, and now he could do nothing without consulting his Russian friends.  As for the Jewish question, the Germans proposed that it be solved by using the new Poland as a sink into which Europe’s Jews should be emptied.  Hitler approved the proposal that a secret meeting take place between German and British emissaries—perhaps G–ring himself and General Sir Edmund Ironside—in Holland.  Dahlerus left for London at once.(3)

The German army had good reason to keep anxious track of Hitler’s peace offensive.  Late in September, Halder’s deputy had gloomily—and wholly inaccurately—warned that the German army could not launch a frontal assault on the French before 1942.  Hitler was aware of the army’s reluctance to apply its mind to “Yellow”;  this was one reason for his speech of September 27.  But even in that speech he had referred to a western assault only as a necessary evil if the French and British failed to see reason.  If that happened, then “we must resolve to batter the enemy until he gives in.”

The army marshaled what arguments it could against executing “Yellow” now :  the tactics which had proved so successful in Poland would not suffice against the well-organized French army ;  the foggy weather and short hours of autumn daylight would set the Luftwaffe at a disadvantage ;  the army lacked ammunition, stores, and equipment.  Brauchitsch enumerated these arguments to Hitler on October 7, and Hitler—already angered by the reluctance of his soldiers to follow him—asked the Commander in Chief to leave his notes behind, an ominous sign that he was not satisfied.  Over the next two days he dictated a fifty-eight-page memorandum for the eyes of Keitel and the three commanders in chief alone ;  in it he explained just why they must launch “Yellow” at the very earliest opportunity and just why time was working against Germany.

The F¸hrer read this formidable document to his uncomfortable generals on the tenth.  We shall return to it at greater length shortly.  In it, he insisted that Britain’s long-range goal remained unchanged :  the disintegration of the powerful German bloc, and the annihilation and dissolution of this new Reich with its eighty million people.  The long-range German war aim must therefore be the absolute military defeat of the West (in which the destruction of the enemy’s forces was more important than the gaining of enemy territory).  This was the struggle which the German people must now assume.  Despite all this, he added, a rapidly achieved peace agreement would still serve German interests—provided that Germany was required to relinquish nothing of her gains.

Hitler ignored none of the various unofficial channels for negotiation with the West now that Poland had been laid low.  Over the next few days, however, it became clear that while some circles in Britain—notably in the air ministry—wanted an armistice, there was in the British Cabinet a hard core of opposition to whom all talk of making a deal with Hitler was anathema.  Hitler was probably right in identifying the main source of this stubborn anti-German line as Churchill, now First Lord of the Admiralty, and the clique around him.  On September 29, Alfred Rosenberg secured Hitler’s permission to take up feelers put out through an intermediary in Switzerland by officials of the British air ministry ;  but this glimmer of hope was shortly extinguished when the intermediary reported that the forces for peace in that ministry had been pushed to the wall by the more militant forces at Churchill’s beck and call.  Little more was heard of these diffident approaches from London.

At this stage in Hitler’s thought processes there came an ostensible intervention by President Roosevelt that was as abrupt in its approach as it was enigmatic in denouement.  At the beginning of October an influential American oil tycoon arrived in Berlin on a peace mission for which he had apparently received a ninety-minute personal briefing from Roosevelt.  He was William Rhodes Davis, whose own personal interest lay in preventing any disruption of his oil business with Germany.  He had been brought into contact with Roosevelt by John L. Lewis, leader of the CIO, the United States labor federation whose fourteen million members represented a political force no president could afford to ignore.  Lewis was originally both anti-Fascist and anti-Communist, but he had, said Davis, been impressed by the significant rise in the living standards of the German worker under National Socialism.  Anxious about the effects of a long war on American export markets, Lewis had obliged Roosevelt to entrust this unofficial peace mission to Davis.

In Berlin the oilman met G–ring, and a seven-page summary of the discussion of the alleged Roosevelt proposals survives.(4)  It was evidently given wide confidential circulation in Berlin, for sardonic references to Roosevelt’s sudden emergence as an “angel of peace” bent on securing a third term figure in several diaries of the day.

President Roosevelt is prepared to put pressure on the western powers to start peace talks if Germany will provide the stimulus.  President Roosevelt asks to be advised of the various points Germany wants to settle, for example, Poland and the colonies.  In this connection President Roosevelt also mentioned the question of the purely Czech areas, on which however a settlement need not come into effect until later.  This point was touched on by President Roosevelt with regard to public opinion in the United States, as he must placate the Czech voters and the circles sympathizing with them if he is to exercise pressure on Britain to end the war.

Davis assured G–ring that Roosevelt’s main strategic concern was to exploit the present situation to destroy Britain’s monopoly of the world markets.  “In his conversation with Davis, Roosevelt explained that he was flatly opposed to the British declaration of war.  He was not consulted by Britain in advance.”  Roosevelt suspected that Britain’s motives were far more dangerous and that they had nothing to do with Poland ;  he himself recognized that the real reason for the war lay in the one-sided Diktat of Versailles which made it impossible for the German people to acquire a living standard comparable with that of their neighbors in Europe.  Roosevelt’s proposal, according to the unpublished summary, was that Hitler be allowed to keep Danzig and all the now Polish provinces taken from Germany by the treaty of Versailles, that all Germany’s former African colonies be restored to her forthwith, and that the rest of the world give Germany financial assistance in establishing a high standard of living.

This was not all.  If Daladier and Chamberlain refused to comply, then President Roosevelt would support Germany—Davis reported—in her search for a just, tolerable, and lasting peace :  he would supply Germany with goods and war supplies “convoyed to Germany under the protection of the American armed forces” if need be.  John L. Lewis had privately promised Davis that if some such agreement could be reached between Germany and the United States his unions would prevent the manufacture of war supplies for Britain and France.

G–ring outlined Davis’s message in detail to the F¸hrer immediately after the meeting, and on October 3 the field marshal announced to the American that in his important speech to the Reichstag on the sixth Hitler would make a number of peace proposals closely embodying the points Davis had brought from Washington.  (Hitler’s more detailed proposals as described by G–ring indeed went so far that their sincerity is open to question.)  G–ring told Davis :  “If in his [Roosevelt’s] opinion the suggestions afford a reasonable basis for a peace conference, he will then have the opportunity to bring about this settlement.... You may assure Mr. Roosevelt that if he will undertake this mediation, Germany will agree to an adjustment whereby a new Polish state and an independent Czechoslovak government would come into being.  However this information is for him [Roosevelt] alone and to be used only if necessary to bring about a peace conference.”  G–ring was willing to attend such a conference in Washington.

When Davis went back to the United States with the five detailed points Hitler proposed, he was accompanied by a German official, a “special ambassador” appointed to settle any details.  Hitler hoped for an interim reply from Roosevelt by the fifth.  (As Rosenberg wrote :  “It would be a cruel blow for London to be urgently “advised” by Washington to sue for peace!”)  But something had gone wrong with the mission :  when Davis reached Washington he was not readmitted to the President, and they did not meet again.

A different aspect of Roosevelt’s policy was revealed by the Polish documents ransacked by the Nazis from the archives of the ruined foreign ministry building in Warsaw.  The dispatches of the Polish ambassadors in Washington and Paris laid bare Roosevelt’s efforts to goad France and Britain into war with Germany while he rearmed the United States and psychologically prepared the American public for war.  In November 1938, William C. Bullitt, his personal friend and ambassador in Paris, had indicated to the Poles that the President’s desire was that “Germany and Russia should come to blows,” whereupon the democratic nations would attack Germany and force her into submission ;  in the spring of 1939, Bullitt quoted Roosevelt as being determined “not to participate in the war from the start, but to be in at the finish”—the United States without doubt would fight, but “only if France and Britain kick off first.”  Bullitt was said by the Poles to have carried with him to Paris a “suitcase full of instructions” outlining the pressure he was to put on the Quai d’Orsay not to compromise with the totalitarian powers ;  at the same time Washington was applying “various exceptionally significant screws” to the British.  Washington, Bullitt had told the Polish diplomats, was being guided not by ideological considerations but solely by the material interests of the United States.  The Warsaw documents left little doubt as to what had stiffened Polish resistance to German demands during the August 1939 crisis.

On Friday October 6, Hitler spoke to the Reichstag.  His “appeal for peace” was addressed to the British in more truculent and recriminatory language than many of his more moderate followers would have wished.  He singled out Churchill—who was then First Lord of the Admiralty—as a representative of the Jewish capitalist and journalistic circles whose sole interest in life lay in the furtherance of arson on an international scale.

On the ninth, he issued to his commanders in chief a formal directive to prepare for “Yellow” with all haste, in the event that “Britain and, under her command, France as well” were not disposed to end the war.  His soldiers were, however, full of optimism.  General Rommel wrote from Berlin on the seventh :  “The reaction of the neutrals [to the F¸hrer’s speech] seems very good.  The others will be able to think it over during the weekend.  There is not much going on here otherwise.  If the war ends soon, I hope I will soon be able to go home. . . .”

Hitler had sent Dahlerus to London for talks with Chamberlain.  Late on October 9 the Swede reported to him the conditions Britain was attaching to peace negotiations :  in addition to insisting on a new Polish state, Britain wanted all weapons of aggression destroyed forthwith ;  and there must be a plebiscite in Germany on certain aspects of her foreign policy.  These were hard terms to swallow, for in public Hitler was still claiming that the future of Poland was a matter for Germany and Russia alone to decide, and Britain was blithely ignoring the growing armed strength of the Soviet Union and her expansionist policies.  Nevertheless, on the tenth, Dahlerus was instructed to advise London that Hitler would accept these terms on principle.  The Swedish negotiator saw Hitler twice that day before he departed for a promised rendezvous with a British emissary at The Hague.  He took with him a formal letter from G–ring and a list of Hitler’s proposals—which included a new Polish state ;  the right for Germany to fortify her new frontier with Russia ;  guarantees backed by national plebiscite ;  nonaggression pacts between Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and the Soviet Union ;  disarmament ;  and the return of Germany’s former colonies or suitable substitute territories.(5)  Dahlerus noted to one German officer after meeting Hitler that “Germany for her part was able to swallow even tough conditions, provided they were put in a palatable form.”  He said he was taking with him to Holland more than enough to dispel Britain’s smoldering mistrust of Hitler.

In Holland, however, Dahlerus waited in vain for the promised British emissary.  The British foreign office asked him to describe Hitler’s proposals to their local envoy and to remain at The Hague until he heard from London.  Berlin optimistically viewed this request as a positive token of British interest and agreed that he should wait there.  But Chamberlain’s eagerly awaited speech to the House of Commons the next day, October 12, exploded Hitler’s confident expectation that peace was about to descend on Europe after five weeks of war.  Chamberlain dismissed Hitler’s public offer (of the sixth) as “vague and uncertain”—he had made no suggestion for righting the wrongs done to Czechoslovakia and Poland.  If Hitler wanted peace, said Chamberlain, “acts—not words alone—must be forthcoming.”  That same evening Hitler sent for G–ring, Milch, and Udet of the Luftwaffe and instructed them to resume bomb production at the earliest possible moment.  “The war will go on !”  Dahlerus was asked to return from The Hague to Berlin forthwith.  Edouard Daladier’s reply to Hitler was no less abrupt.  “Before these answers came,” Weizs”cker wrote two days later, “the F¸hrer himself had indulged in great hopes of seeing his dream of working with Britain fulfilled.  He had set his heart on peace.  Herr von Ribbentrop seemed less predisposed toward it.  He sent the F¸hrer his own word picture of a future Europe like the empire of Charlemagne.”

To the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin a few days later Hitler voiced his puzzlement at Britain’s intransigence.  He felt he had repeatedly extended the hand of peace and friendship to the British, and each time they had blacked his eye in reply.  “The survival of the British Empire is in Germany’s interests too,” Hitler noted, “because if Britain loses India, we gain nothing thereby.”  Of course he was going to restore a Polish state—he did not want to gorge himself with Poles ;  as for the rest of Chamberlain’s outbursts, he, Hitler, might as well demand that Britain “right the wrongs” done to India, Egypt, and Palestine.  Britain could have peace any time she wanted, but they—and that included that “brilliantined moron” Eden and the equally incompetent Churchill—must learn to keep their noses out of Europe.

And in a fit of anger Hitler complained to Dahlerus about “the unbelievable behavior of Mr. Chamberlain”;  from now on Germany would fight Britain tooth and nail—he did not propose to bargain with her any longer.  Dahlerus left the Chancellery in a huff at the failure of his peace effort, but was later soothed by G–ring, who sent an important German decoration around to him that same evening.

To Hitler it was clear there was no alternative but to proceed with the war.  The urgency of resuming the offensive was what he had most impressed on his supreme commanders in his memorandum of October 9.  While German military advantage was now at its very zenith, every month that passed in idleness would see a relative weakening vis-ý-vis the enemy ;  in Italy, moreover, Mussolini was not getting any younger ;  the West might succeed in blackmailing Holland or Belgium into abandoning their neutrality, or in bribing the venal Balkan countries to the same effect ;  Russia’s attitude could easily change.  And there were other reasons why Germany must strike swiftly and avoid a protracted war :  as Britain patched up her military resources and injected fresh units into France, the psychological boost this gave to the French could not be ignored ;  conversely it would become progressively more difficult to sustain the German public’s enthusiasm for war or to feed the German war effort with foodstuffs and raw materials as each month passed.  Germany’s air superiority was only temporary—the moment the enemy believed he had achieved air superiority he would exploit it regardless of any reprisals Hitler might announce.  Above all the British and French knew of the vulnerability of the Ruhr industries, and the moment the enemy could base aircraft or even long-range artillery on Belgian and Dutch territory, Germany would have to write off the Ruhr from the war effort ;  enemy bombers would have to fly barely a sixth of the distance that German bombers would have to cover to reach important British targets from the small strip of Germany’s North Sea coast.  This was why Hitler was convinced that the occupation of Belgium and Holland must be on the western powers’ agenda already, and this was how he justified ordering his army to prepare to attack France through Belgium.

If the coast of western Europe were in Hitler’s hands, the advantages to Germany would be decisive if the war against Britain was to continue :  for sound strategic reasons the German navy needed submarine bases west of the English Channel.  (On the tenth, Raeder also proposed that Germany obtain naval bases in Norway for the same reasons.)  Similarly the Luftwaffe would have a disproportionate advantage in striking power if its flying distance to British targets involved only the short shuttle route from Holland, Belgium, or even the Pas de Calais in France.

The battle performance of the arms, men, and leadership of the German Wehrmacht had been strikingly demonstrated in Poland.  In the fighting in the west, Germany could field a modern army of proud and battle-hardened soldiers.  Their weapons were up-to-date and plentiful, particularly in the panzer and air forces ;  the artillery had at least two to three times as much ammunition per gun as at the onset of the war in 1914.  Hitler proclaimed himself unimpressed by France’s superiority in heavy howitzers and longrange artillery.  But he warned emphatically against underestimating the value of the British divisions ;  as each month brought more to the shores of France, it would become increasingly awkward for the French government to extricate itself from the war.

These were the reasons Hitler gave for asking the Wehrmacht to put the offensive first, attacking in the west “this very autumn,” and en masse ;  after all this might well be the push that ended all the fighting in Europe.  The German army would attack the French along a front from south of Luxemburg to north of Nijmegen, in Holland.  Splitting into two assault groups on either side of the Belgian fortress of Liege, it would destroy the French and British armies which would have come to meet it.  The German armored formations would be used with such speed and dexterity that no cohesive front could be stabilized by the enemy ;  on no account were the tanks to become entangled in the endless maze of Belgian streets.  The cities were to be bypassed, invested by lesser troops, and starved into submission.  The Luftwaffe was to concentrate on shattering enemy railroad and road networks, rather than squander effort on hunting down individual aircraft.  “Extreme restrictions are to be imposed on air attacks on cities themselves”;  they were to be bombed only if necessary as reprisals for raids on the Reich cities.  The war aim of the Wehrmacht, he drilled into his supreme commanders in this carefully-thought-out memorandum, was the destruction of the Anglo-French armies, not the destruction of public property and installations.

The German navy and air force accepted Hitler’s arguments without demur, but the army leadership began a kicking and struggling that was to last until the spring of 1940.  Perhaps this was because for the first time the generals clearly saw that Hitler took his position as Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht seriously—that he now proposed to “interfere” more radically with the overall strategic direction of the war.  Admiral Raeder not only shared the views expressed in the memorandum, but added an urgency of his own when he saw Hitler on the evening of the tenth of October :  if Britain was to be defeated, she must be beleaguered and besieged regardless of army objections and the risk of American involvement.  “The earlier we begin, and the more brutally, the earlier we shall see results ;  the shorter will be the war.”  Hitler thought the same way and stressed the importance of maintaining the submarine construction program right through 1940.  Rudolf Hess meantime furnished him with several studies urging the use of magnetic mines to blockade Britain’s sea lanes.  In short, everybody accepted the need to defeat the western powers except the German army :  the OKH (War Department) considered the army unready for a new campaign ;  army group commanders Bock and Leeb echoed this skepticism with different degrees of vehemence, and army commanders like Reichenau and Kluge were equally unenthusiastic about the campaign—they would not even favor such an attack if the western powers were to invade Belgium forthwith.  General von Brauchitsch found in mid-October that Hitler turned a deaf ear on his hesitations.  Only a sound thrashing would make the British see reason, the F¸hrer said.  “Yellow” was provisionally to begin the third week of November ;  this early date would be dependent only on the weather forecast for Luftwaffe operations and not on the recalcitrant army’s whims.

An indirect but readily traceable result of the British snub of his peace overture was a further hardening in Hitler’s attitude to the future of Poland.  After his Reichstag speech of October 6, he did not renew his offer to set up a rump Polish state.  The Poland of 1939 would be subdivided, dismembered, and repopulated in such a way that it would never again rise to embarrass Germany or the Soviet Union.  The eastern half, of course, had gone to Stalin ;  in the west, part would be absorbed by the Reich, while central Poland, i.e., the districts of Warsaw, Radom, Lublin, and Cracow, would become a Polish reservation under exclusively German rule—a reservoir of cheap labor for the Reich’s industries.  By the end of September, Hitler had already drafted the first decrees for radical surgery of Poland’s population under the overall direction of Heinrich Himmler as “Reich Commissioner for the Consolidation of the German Population.”  The Polish and Jewish populations in western Poland were to be displaced to a reservation in central Poland, and refugees of German descent from the Baltic states and eastern Poland would take their place.

A series of radical decrees signed by Hitler heralded this new order in Poland.  On October 4 he amnestied all deeds committed by Germans “enraged by the atrocities perpetrated by the Poles.”  The Hitler decree appointing Himmler gave him the job of “eliminating the injurious influence of such non-German segments of the population there as are a danger to the Reich”;  it was signed on the seventh.  On the eighth Hitler signed a decree setting up new Reich Gaue (districts)—“West Prussia” and “Posen”—while former Polish frontier regions around Kattowitz and Zichenau were annexed to Silesia and East Prussia, respectively.  As for the remaining German-occupied area, the Polish reservation, on the twelfth Hitler drafted a decree “for the restoration ... of public order” there, subjugating these remaining regions to a German Governor General, a viceroy responsible only to himself ;  the new setup was to go into effect the moment the military government was withdrawn.

The Generalgouvernement was about one quarter the area of prewar Poland.  As Governor General, Hitler selected Dr. Hans Frank, the Party’s legal adviser ;  Frank, a former member of the Faculty of Law at Munich University, had specialized in industrial law.  He rapidly gained a reputation for slipperiness with the army generals assigned to the eastern command, and since he shortly fell out with Himmler—who did not even attend Frank’s installation ceremony at Lodz—his reign from Cracow castle was to be a lonely one.

These were the twilight days of the German army’s rule in Poland.  At a conference at the Chancellery on October 17, Hitler announced to Keitel, Frank, and Himmler that the army was to hand over control to the civilian administrations set up under Hans Frank and Gauleiters Albert Forster and Artur Greiser.  The army ought to be glad to be rid of this unwholesome task, Hitler noted, and warming to his theme he ordered that in the Generalgouvernement it was no part of the administrators’ duty to establish a model province along German lines or to put the country economically back on its feet.  On the contrary, this was to become a “Polish economy”(6) par excellence !  Significantly Frank’s task in Poland would be to “lay the foundations for a military buildup in the future” and to prevent the Polish intelligentsia from creating a hard-core opposition leadership.  The fight would be cruel, but this alone, Keitel noted in his record of Hitler’s remarks, would spare Germany the need to go onto the battlefield once again because of Poland.  Poland must become so poor that the people would want to work in Germany ;  the Jews and other vermin must be given speedy passage eastward.  To an army colonel who arrived at the Chancellery that evening Keitel frankly admitted :  “The methods to be employed will be irreconcilable with all our existing principles.”  According to yet another version, Hitler ended by announcing that he wanted Gauleiters Greiser(7) and Forster to be able to report to him ten years from now that Posen and West Prussia were pure and Germanic provinces in full bloom, and Hans Frank to be able to report that in the Generalgouvernement—the Polish reservation—the “devil’s deed” had been done.

The population surgery prescribed by the redrawn map of eastern Europe inflicted hardship on Germans too, and German refugees crowded the roads of the territories of southeastern Poland beyond the San River, an area which had been assigned to Russia.  Here there were scores of villages and hamlets where the language and the culture was German, where Germans had tended land given to their ancestors by Maria Theresa and Joseph II—villages with names like Burgthal and Wiesenberg, or Neudorf and Steinfels, where the farms were laid out and worked in an orderly and scientific manner that set them apart from the farms of Polish and Ukrainian neighbors.

In the last days of October 1939, Captain Engel, Hitler’s army adjutant, handed him a Fourteenth Army report on the evacuation of these thousands of ethnic Germans before the advancing Red Army troops occupied their villages.  In the five days after September 22, about five thousand bewildered villagers and their livestock had been marched westward, helped by army transport of the withdrawing Wehrmacht units and looked after by NSV welfare teams.  No orders had been given ;  none were necessary.  “In the majority of cases the villagers had experienced enough during the Great War (when the Germans were transported to Siberia) and during the years of Bolshevik rule, 1919 and 1920, for them to abandon their property without further ado and take to their heels.”  These were pious and deeply patriotic Germans, untainted by Polish ways, the report concluded ;  they would be excellent stock for the resettlement of Germany’s newly won eastern provinces.  As this westward movement was in progress, a more ominous eastward flow began :  from their half of Poland, the Russians began deporting dangerous intellectuals and officer classes ;  and in the German half the Jews were being rounded up, confined, and spilled over the demarcation line into the Russian zone where possible.

Hitler’s attitude toward the Kremlin at this time revealed a fascinating conflict between his short-term desire for a stable eastern front and an assured supply of raw materials, and his long-term, immutable hatred and mistrust of Stalin and communism ;  his imperial eastern ambitions had only temporarily been anesthetized by the rapid conquest of Poland.  In private conferences with such loquacious personalities as Count Galeazzo Ciano, both the F¸hrer and Ribbentrop spoke reverently of the treaties signed with Moscow.  But secretly Hitler acted as though the Russians were infected by some contagion which must at all costs be prevented from spreading to the Reich.  Contacts between the German and Soviet armies along the demarcation line were prohibited by Berlin.  The repatriation of the ethnic Germans was actively encouraged, and at one time there was even a suggestion that the navy protect the interests of the German communities trapped by the Russian encroachment on the Baltic states.  How long could he rely on the Kremlin to respect the demarcation line ?  In his long October memorandum to his supreme commanders Hitler had warned :  “Through no treaty and no agreement can the lasting neutrality of Russia be guaranteed with certainty.  For the present all the indications are that Russia will not abandon this neutrality.  But that may change in eight months, in a year, or even in several years’ time.”  Only the clear demonstration of Germany’s superiority in arms would dissuade Stalin from tearing up his pact with Berlin the moment it suited him.  This latent mistrust was voiced even more emphatically by Hitler to Keitel on the seventeenth :  Poland was to be left in decay except insofar as was needed to work up the roads, the rail systems, and the signals networks to turn the area into an important military springboard ;  without doubt he was thinking in terms of an attack on Russia.

In a long speech behind closed doors to senior Party officials and Gauleiters on October 21, he promised that once he had forced Britain and France to their knees he would revert his attention to the east and show who was the master there.  It had become clear that the Russian army was not much use, he was quoted as explaining, and that their soldiers were badly trained and poorly equipped.  “Once he had [dealt with the East] as well he would set about restoring Germany to how she used to be. . . .”  He wanted Belgium ;  and as for France, Hitler was now thinking in terms of the ancient frontier of 1540—when the Habsburg empire of Charles V had embraced Switzerland and a multitude of duchies like Burgundy and Lorraine as far to the west as the Meuse.

In summary, Hitler proposed to exploit his alliance with Stalin as long as possible and then to attack Russia before Stalin attempted to destroy him.  It was plain that Russia was prepared to pay a high price in raw materials for German industrial expertise, machine tools, modern artillery, aircraft, and ship designs.  Russia even signed a trade agreement with Britain to procure the rubber and tin needed by Berlin.  Nevertheless, to his closest associates Hitler betrayed his true feelings about the alliance.  A week after his speech to the Gauleiters, he assembled two dozen generals and admirals for an investiture at the Chancellery, and during the banquet that followed, he suddenly asked the panzer general, Guderian, what the army reaction to his Moscow Pact had been.  Guderian replied the army had breathed a sigh of relief, but this was evidently anything but the answer Hitler wanted.  The F¸hrer lapsed into a brooding silence and then changed the subject.

1 After a ham-handed joke by Hitler and G–ring in February 1937 had misfired, Hanfstaengl had fled to England, believing his life to be in danger.

2 National-Sozialistische Volkswohlfahrt, the Party’s civilian welfare organization.

3 From the papers released to the Public Record Office in London it is clear that neither Chamberlain nor Halifax rejected Hitler’s terms out of hand when Dahlerus described them.  Even Churchill talked approvingly of an armistice.  However, the file that evidently contains notes of Chamberlain’s talk with Dahlerus on September 29, 1939, is closed until 1990, and forty-five pages of the foreign office file on Germany and future policy (F.O.371/22,985) covering the crucial period of October 3-4, 1939, are unavailable until the year 2015.  A two-volume history of Anglo-German peace negotiations by Dr. Bernd Martin, of the University of Freiburg, is to appear shortly.

4 Signed by Ministerialdirektor Wohlthat, this remarkable document was not published in the postwar volumes of captured German documents ;  nor were the German reports on the Dahlerus missions that followed.

5 The brief treatment of this episode in Sir Llewellyn Woodward’s British Foreign Policy in the Second World War, Vol. II (H.M.S.O., 1971), page 186, includes an inadequate summary of the proposals.

6 Literal translation of polnische Wirtschaft, a phrase of which the sense would better be given, however, by a “Polish pigsty.”

7 On March 7, 1944, Gauleiter Artur Greiser cabled the F¸hrer that 1,000,000 Germans had been officially transplanted to his Reich Gau “Wartheland” from the old Reich, from the rest of Europe, and most recently from the Black Sea regions ;  the Jews had all but vanished from the area, and the number of Poles had been reduced from 4,200,000 to 3,500,000 by forced migration.  This indicates the kind of population movements that Hitler set in train in October 1939.  In May 1945, with the approval of the western governments, the tides were reversed, but even more dramatically.  About 40,000,000 Germans, Poles, and Czechs were forcibly resettled by 1948.