The causes of the Second World War were global and complex, including Japanese imperialism in the east, the rise of communism in Russia, and unsettled tensions in the European balance of power. The documents here focus on the disagreements between Germany and Great Britain in the summer of 1939 that led to the outbreak of violence in Western Europe. In the years after the First World War, German bitterness over their military loss and the harsh economic punishments enacted by the Treaty of Versailles allowed for the rise of a fascist regime under Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s promises of territorial expansion and a renewal of the former glory of the empire appealed to German nationalistic sentiments. In 1938, Hitler set his sights on Poland, claiming that the large German ethnic population in the city of Danzig needed protection and should be under German control. When Poland refused to turn Danzig over to the Germans, Hitler threatened invasion. Britain, supported by their French ally, promised retaliation if the Germans encroached on Polish territory. After a tense summer of speeches and communications between Germany and Britain, the German Luftwaffe bombed the Polish city of Wielun, sparking six years of war that would be the deadliest in European history.
Hitler rides into the city of Danzig, September 19, 1939
Statement by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, 10 July 1939
Letter from the Prime Minister to the German Chancellor, 22 August, 1939
Communication from the German Chancellor to the Prime Minister, 23 August 1939
Speech by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the House of Lords, 24 August, 1939
Reply of His Majesty’s Government to the German Chancellor’s Communications of August 23 and 25, 1939; 28 August 1939
Reply of the German Chancellor to the Communication of August 28, 1939, from His Majesty’s Government; 29 August 1939
Reply of His Majesty’s Government to the German Chancellor’s Communication of August 29, 1939; 30 August 1939
Speech by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, 1 September 1939
Hitler’s Speech to the Reichstag, 1 September 1939
Hitler’s Proclamations to the German People and the German Army, 3 September 1939
The Prime Minister’s Broadcast to the German People, 4 September 1939
Hitler’s Speech at Wilhelmshaven, 1 April 1939 Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 20)
GERMANS! Volksgenossen und Volksgenossinnen!
Whoever wishes to estimate the decline and regeneration of Germany must look at the development of a city like Wilhelmshaven. A short time ago it was a dead spot almost without any title to existence, without any prospect of a future; to-day it is filled again with the hum of work and production. It is good if one recalls again to memory this past.
When the city experienced its first rise to prosperity, this coincided with the regeneration of the German Reich after its battle for unification. This Germany was a Germany of peace. At the same time as the so-called peace-loving virtuous nations were carrying on quite a number of wars, the Germany of that time had only one aim, namely, to preserve peace, to work in peace, to increase the prosperity of her inhabitants and thereby to contribute to human culture and civilisation.
This peace-time Germany tried with unceasing industry, with genius and with perseverance to set up its inner life and to assure for itself a proper place in the sun through participation in peaceful rivalry with other nations.
In spite of the fact that this Germany was for decades the surest guarantor of peace and devoted herself only to her own peaceful business, other nations, and particularly their statesmen, could not refrain from persecuting this regeneration with envy and hate and finally answering it with a war.
We know to-day from historical records how the encirclement policy of that time had been systematically pursued by England. We know from numerous established facts and publications that in that land one was imbued with the conception that it was necessary to crush Germany militarily because its annihilation would assure to every British citizen a larger measure of this world’s goods.
Certainly Germany at that time committed errors. Its worst error was to see this encirclement and to take no steps in time to avoid it. The only reproach which we can level at the regime of that day is the fact that it had full knowledge of the devilish plan for a surprise attack on the Reich, and even so was unable to make up its mind to avoid in time such an attack, but allowed this encirclement to mature right up to the outbreak of the catastrophe.
The result was the World War.
In this war the German people, although they were in no way armed the best, fought heroically. No nation can claim for itself the glory of having beaten us to our knees, least of all those whose statesmen to-day are boasting….
Germany was to give a good example by taking the lead and all undertook to follow her disarmament.
The era of so-called secret diplomacy was to come to an end as well. All problems were to be discussed and negotiated openly and freely.
The right of self-determination for nations was to be finally established and be regarded as the most important factor.
Germany believed these assurances. Relying on these declarations Germany laid down her weapons. And then a breach of faith began such as world history has never seen.
At the moment when our people had laid down their arms a period of blackmail, oppression, pillage and slavery began.
No longer any word of peace without victors and vanquished, but a sentence of condemnation for the vanquished for time without end.
No longer any word of equal rights, but rights for one side and absence of rights and injustice for the other. One robbery after another, one blackmail after another were the results.
No man in this democratic world bothered about the suffering of our people. Hundreds of thousands fell in the war, not through enemy action, but through the hunger blockade. And when the war came to an end this blockade was continued still for months in order to bring still further pressure on our nation. Even the German prisoners of war had to remain in captivity for indefinite periods. The German colonies were stolen from us, German foreign securities were simply confiscated, and our mercantile marine was taken away.
Then came financial pillage such as the world has never up to this day seen. Payments were imposed on the German people which reached astronomical figures, and about which English statesmen said that they could only be effected if the whole German nation reduced its standard of living to the utmost and worked fourteen hours a day.
What German spirit and German diligence had created and saved in decades was now lost in a few years. Millions of Germans were torn away from the Reich, others were prevented from returning into the Reich. The League of Nations was made not an instrument of a just policy of understanding, but a guarantor of the meanest dictate that human beings had ever thought out.
A great people was thus raped and led towards the misery that all of you know. A great people was deprived of its rights by breach of promise and its existence in practice was made impossible. A French statesman gave sober expression to this by declaring: “There are 20 million Germans too many in the world!”….
The German people was created by Providence, not in order to obey a law which suits Englishmen or Frenchmen, but to stand up for its vital right. That is what we are there for!
I was determined to take up this struggle for standing up for German vital rights. I took it up first of all within the nation. The place of a number of parties, classes and associations has now been taken by one single community, the community of the German people!
It is the duty of us all to realise this community and to continue to intensify it. In the course of this time I have had to hurt many an individual. But I believe that the happiness shared to-day by the entire nation must more than compensate every individual for the things which were dear to him and which he individually had to give up.
You have all sacrificed your parties, your clubs, your associations, but you have instead received a great and strong Reich!
And this Reich is to-day, thank God, sufficiently strong to take under its protection your rights. We are now no longer dependent upon the favour or disfavour of other States or their statesmen.
When over six years ago I came into power, I took over a pitiful heritage. The Reich appeared to possess no possibilities for existence for its citizens. At that time I began work with the only capital which I possessed. It was the capital of your power to work! It was your power to work, my “Volksgenossen,” that I began to put into use. I had not foreign exchange and no gold; I only had one thing: my faith and your work! We have now founded a new economic system, a system which is called: capital is power to work, and money is covered by our production. We have founded a system based upon the most noble principle in existence, namely, from your life yourself! Work for your existence! Help yourself, then God will also help you!….
If an English statesman to-day believes that all problems can and must be solved by frank discussion and negotiations, then I would like to say to this statesman: an opportunity to do so existed for fifteen years before our time! If the world to-day says that one must divide the nations into virtuous and non-virtuous categories-and that the English and French belong in the first place to the virtuous nations and the Germans and Italians to the non-virtuous-then we can only answer: the decision as to whether a nation is virtuous or not virtuous can hardly be made by a mortal human being, and should be left to God!
Perhaps this same British statesman will reply: God has already delivered judgment, for he has given to the virtuous nations one-quarter of the globe and has taken away everything from the non-virtuous! In answer to that, one may be permitted to ask: by what means have the virtuous nations acquired this quarter of the globe? And the answer must be, they have not been virtuous methods!
For 300 years this England has acted only as an unvirtuous nation, and now in old age she is beginning to talk about virtue. It was thus possible that during the British non-virtuous period 46 million Englishmen have conquered almost a quarter of the world, while 80 million Germans, on account of their virtue, have to exist at the rate of 140 to the square kilometre.
Yes, twenty years ago the question of virtue was not yet quite clear in the minds of British statesmen, in so far as it touched conceptions of property. At that time it was still thought to be compatible with virtue simply to take away from another people the colonies which it had acquired by contract or by purchase because one had the power to do so.
A power which now it is true is to count as something disgusting and contemptible. In this respect, I can only say one thing to these gentlemen: we do not know whether they believe that sort of thing themselves or not. We assume, however, that they do not believe it. For if we were to assume that they really believed it themselves, then we would lose every feeling of respect for them.
For fifteen years Germany had borne this fate patiently. I also tried at the beginning to solve every problem by discussion. At every problem I made offers, and they were every time refused! There can be no doubt that every people possesses sacred interests, simply because they are identical with its life and its vital right.
If a British statesman to-day demands that every problem concerning vital German interests should first be discussed with England, then I could make precisely the same claim and demand that every British problem must first be discussed with us. Admittedly, this Englishman would answer: Palestine is none of your business! But, just as Germany has no business in Palestine, so has England no business in the German Lebensraum! And if the problem is claimed to be a question of general rights, then I can only agree to this opinion if it were regarded as universal and obligatory. One says we had no right to do this or that. I would like to ask a counter-question: what right-just to quote only one example has England to shoot down Arabs in Palestine, only because they are standing up for their home? Who gives England the right to do so?
We at any rate have not slaughtered thousands in Central Europe, but have solved our problems in a peaceful and orderly manner! There is one thing, however, that I must say: the German people of to-day, the German Reich of the present time, are not willing to sacrifice interests, and they are also not willing to stand up to rising dangers without taking action! When the allies at one time changed the map of Europe with no consideration for expediency, justice, tradition or even common-sense, we did not have the power to prevent them from doing so. But if they expect the Germany of the present day patiently to allow vassal States, whose only duty consists in their being set to work against Germany, to carry on as they like until the day comes when their services are to be actively employed, then they are confounding present-day Germany with the Germany of pre-war days. Those who declare that they are prepared to pull chestnuts out of the fire for these Great Powers must also expect to burn their fingers in the course of the process.
We have really no feelings of hatred for the Czech people, we have lived together for years. English statesmen do not know that. They have no idea that the Hradschin was built not by an Englishman but by Germans, and that the St. Veit’s Cathedral was also not built by Englishmen but by Germans. Frenchmen also were not active there. They do not know that already, at a time when England was still very small, homage was done to a German Emperor on this hill, and that, a thousand years before I did so myself, the first German King stood there and received the homage of this people. This the English do not know, they cannot know it and they need not know it.
It is sufficient that we know it, and that it is true that for a thousand years this area belonged to the Lebensraum of the German people. We would, nevertheless, have had nothing against an independent Czech State if this State had not, firstly, oppressed Germans, and, secondly, if it had not been an instrument for a future attack on Germany.
But when a former French Air Minister writes in a newspaper that it is the task of this Czechia, because of her splendid geographical position, to strike at Germany’s industry by air attacks in a war, then one will understand that it is not without interest to us, and that we drew certain conclusions therefrom.
It would have been a matter for England and France to defend this air base. It was our affair, at any rate, to prevent the possibility of such an attack taking place. I believed that I could achieve this end in a natural and simple way. It was not until I saw that such an attempt was doomed to fail, and that the anti-German elements would once more gain the upper hand, and it was not until I also saw that this State had for a long time lost its inner capacity to live and that it had already collapsed, that I re-enforced ancient German right and reunited what had to be united by history, geographical position and all rules of common-sense.
Not for the purpose of suppressing the Czech people! It will have more freedom than the oppressed peoples of the virtuous nations!
I have, so I believe, thereby rendered a great service to peace, for I have in good time made valueless an instrument that was designed to become effective in time of war against Germany.
If people now say that this is the signal for Germany’s desire to attack the whole world, then I do not believe they mean it seriously; such a statement could only be the expression of the very worst of consciences. Perhaps it is anger at the failure of a far-reaching plan; perhaps it is belief that the premises can thereby be created for a new policy of encirclement? Whatever the case may be, I am convinced that I have thereby rendered a great service to peace.
And it is from this conviction that I determined three weeks ago to give the coming Party Rally the name of “Party Rally of Peace.” For Germany does not dream of attacking other nations.
What we do not, however, desire to renounce is the extension of our economic relations. To this we have a right, and I do not accept orders in this respect from any statesman inside or outside Europe!
The German Reich is not only a great producer, but also a tremendous consumer. In the same way as we become an unreplaceable commercial partner as consumer, so are we suited as a producer honestly to pay for what we consume.
We do not dream of waging war on other nations, subject, of course, to their leaving us in peace also. The German Reich is, however, in no case prepared permanently to tolerate intimidation, or even a policy of encirclement.
I once concluded an agreement with England-the Naval Agreement. It is based on the ardent desire, shared by us all, never to be forced to fight a war against England. This desire can, however, only be a reciprocal one. If it no longer exists in England, then the practical premises for the agreement have been removed. Germany would accept even a situation of this kind with calm composure! We are so sure of ourselves because we are strong, and we are strong because we are united, and also because we keep our eyes open! And in this town more than elsewhere I can only urge you to look at the world and all happenings therein around us with open eyes. Do not deceive yourselves regarding the most important prerequisite which exists in life, namely, the necessary power at one’s own disposal. He who does not possess power loses the right to live! We have had fifteen years’ experience of such a condition. That is why I have made Germany strong again and why I have created a defence force on land, on the waters and in the air.
But when there is talk in other countries of present rearmament and of continued and still greater rearmament, then I can only say to these statesmen: it will not be me whom they will tire out!
I am determined to continue to march along this road, and I am convinced that we shall advance faster than the others. No Power in the world will ever wheedle our arms from us by mere words. But should anyone at any time show any desire to measure his strength against ours by force, then the German people will always be in a position and ready and determined to do the same!
And our friends think just as we do, especially the State with which we are closely bound and with which we march, now, and in all circumstances, and for all time. When hostile journalists do not know what else to write about, then they write of cracks in the Axis. They can be at ease.
This Axis is the most natural political instrument in the world. It is a political combination of ideas which owes its existence not only to reason and the desire for justice, but also to strength inspired by idealism.
This structure will hold out better than the present alliances of non-homogeneous bodies on the other side. For if anybody tells me to-day that there are no differences in world outlook or ideologies between England and Soviet Russia, I can only say: I congratulate you, Gentlemen.
I believe we shall not have long to wait before we see that the unity in world outlook between Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany is, after all, different from that between democratic Great Britain and the Bolshevik Russia of Stalin.
But if there should really be no ideological difference between them, then I can only say: how right is, after all, my attitude towards Marxism, communism and to democracy! Why two apparitions, when after all they are made of the same substance?
We are experiencing in these days a very great triumph and a feeling of deep inner satisfaction. A country that was also devastated by bolshevism, in which hundreds and thousands of human beings, women, men, children and old people, were slaughtered, has liberated itself, and liberated itself in spite of ideological friends of bolshevism who sit in Great Britain, France and other countries….
This also is an indication of the direction developments are taking. For I believe that all States will have to face the same problems that we once had to face. State after State will either succumb to the Jewish Bolshevik pest or will ward it off. We have done so, and we have now erected a national German People’s State.
This People’s State desires to live in peace and friendship with every other State, it will, however, never again permit itself to be forced to its knees by any other State.
I do not know whether the world will become Fascist! I do not believe that the world will become National Socialist! But that the world will in the end ward off this worst form of bolshevistic threat in existence, of that I am absolutely convinced.
And, therefore, I believe in a conclusive understanding among peoples which will come sooner or later. There is no point in bringing about co-operation among nations, based upon permanent understanding, until this Jewish fission-fungus of peoples has been removed.
To-day we must depend upon our own power! And we can be satisfied with results of this confidence in ourselves! At home and abroad!
When I came into power, Germany was torn and impotent at home, and abroad a toy of foreign will. To-day we have order at home and our economy is flourishing. Abroad we are perhaps not popular, but we are respected. That is the decisive factor. Above all, we have given millions of our “Volksgenossen” the greatest happiness they could have wished for: their home-coming into our Great German Reich. And, secondly, we have given great happiness to Central Europe, namely, peace, peace protected by German power. And this power shall not be broken again by any force in the world. That shall be our oath….
Germans have been the victims of the greatest breach of promise of all time. Let us see to it that our people at home may never again become easy to break up, then no one in the world will ever be able to threaten us. Then peace will be maintained for our people or, if necessary, it will be enforced. And then our people will flourish and prosper.
It will be able to place its genius, its capability, its diligence, and its perseverance at the disposal of the work of peace and home culture. That is our desire; it is that which we hope and in which we believe.
Twenty years ago the party was founded, at that time a very small structure. Recall the distance covered from that time until to-day. Recall the extent of the miracle that has been worked upon us. And have faith, therefore, by the very reason of our miraculous progress, in the further road of the German people in the coming great future!
Germany: Sieg-Heil! Sieg-Heil! Sieg-Heil!
Statement by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, 10 July 1939 Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 35, pp. 98-101)
The Prime Minister: I have previously stated that His Majesty’s Government are maintaining close contact with the Polish and French Governments on the question of Danzig. I have nothing at present to add to the information which has already been given to the House about the local situation. But I may, perhaps, usefully review the elements of this question as they appear to His Majesty’s Government….
Recent occurrences in Danzig have inevitably given rise to fears that it is intended to settle her future status by unilateral action, organized by surreptitious methods, thus presenting Poland and other Powers with a fait accompli. In such circumstances any action taken by Poland to restore the situation would, it is suggested, be represented as an act of aggression on her part, and if her action were supported by other Powers they would be accused of aiding and abetting her in the use of force.
If the sequence of events should, in fact, be such as is contemplated on this hypothesis, hon. Members will realise, from what I have said earlier, that the issue could not be considered as a purely local matter involving the rights and liberties of the Danzigers, which incidentally are in no way threatened, but would at once raise graver issues affecting Polish national existence and independence. We have guaranteed to give our assistance to Poland in the case of a clear threat to her independence, which she considers it vital to resist with her national forces, and we are firmly resolved to carry out this undertaking.
I have said that while the present settlement is neither basically unjust nor illogical, it may be capable of improvement. It may be that in a clearer atmosphere possible improvements could be discussed. Indeed, Colonel Beck has himself said in his speech on the 5th May that if the Government of the Reich is guided by two conditions, namely, peaceful intentions and peaceful methods of procedure, all conversations are possible. In his speech before the Reichstag on the 28th April the German Chancellor said that if the Polish Government wished to come to fresh contractual arrangements governing its relations with Germany he could but welcome such an idea. He added that any such future arrangements would have to be based on an absolutely clear obligation equally binding on both parties.
His Majesty’s Government realise that recent developments in the Free City have disturbed confidence and rendered it difficult at present to find an atmosphere in which reasonable counsels can prevail. In face of this situation, the Polish Government have remained calm, and His Majesty’s Government hope that the Free City, with her ancient traditions, may again prove, as she has done before in her history, that different nationalities can work together when their real interests coincide. Meanwhile, I trust that all concerned will declare and show their determination not to allow any incidents in connection with Danzig to assume such a character as might constitute a menace to the peace of Europe.
Letter from the Prime Minister to the German Chancellor, 22 August, 1939 Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 56, pp. 125-127)
YOUR Excellency will have already heard of certain measures taken by His Majesty’s Government, and announced in the press and on the wireless this evening.
These steps have, in the opinion of His Majesty’s Government, been rendered necessary by the military movements which have been reported from Germany, and by the fact that apparently the announcement of a German-Soviet Agreement is taken in some quarters in Berlin to indicate that intervention by Great Britain on behalf of Poland is no longer a contingency that need be reckoned with. No greater mistake could be made. Whatever may prove to be the nature of the German-Soviet Agreement, it cannot alter Great Britain’s obligation to Poland which His Majesty’s Government have stated in public repeatedly and plainly, and which they are determined to fulfill.
It has been alleged that, if His Majesty’s Government had made their position more clear in 1914, the great catastrophe would have been avoided. Whether or not there is any force in that allegation, His Majesty’s Government are resolved that on this occasion there shall be no such tragic misunderstanding.
If the case should arise, they are resolved, and prepared, to employ without delay all the forces at their command, and it is impossible to foresee the end of hostilities once engaged. It would be a dangerous illusion to think that, if war once starts, it will come to an early end even if a success on any one of the several fronts on which it will be engaged should have been secured.
Having thus made our position perfectly clear, I wish to repeat to you my conviction that war between our two peoples would be the greatest calamity that could occur. I am certain that it is desired neither by our people, nor by yours, and I cannot see that there is anything in the questions arising between Germany and Poland which could not and should not be resolved without the use of force, if only a situation of confidence could be restored to enable discussions to be carried on in an atmosphere different from that which prevails to-day.
We have been, and at all times will be, ready to assist in creating conditions in which such negotiations could take place, and in which it might be possible concurrently to discuss the wider problems affecting the future of international relations, including matters of interest to us and to you.
The difficulties in the way of any peaceful discussion in the present state of tension are, however, obvious, and the longer that tension is maintained, the harder will it be for reason to prevail.
These difficulties, however, might be mitigated, if not removed, provided that there could for an initial period be a truce on both sides-and indeed on all sides-to press polemics and to all incitement.
If such a truce could be arranged, then, at the end of that period, during which steps could be taken to examine and deal with complaints made by either side as to the treatment of minorities, it is reasonable to hope that suitable conditions might have been established for direct negotiations between Germany and Poland upon the issues between them (with the aid of a neutral intermediary, if both sides should think that that would be helpful).
But I am bound to say that there would be slender hope of bringing such negotiations to successful issue unless it were understood beforehand that any settlement reached would, when concluded, be guaranteed by other Powers. His Majesty’s Government would be ready, if desired, to make such contribution as they could to the effective operation of such guarantees.
At this moment I confess I can see no other way to avoid a catastrophe that will involve Europe in war.
In view of the grave consequences to humanity, which may follow from the action of their rulers, I trust that Your Excellency will weigh with the utmost deliberation the considerations which I have put before you.
Communication from the German Chancellor to the Prime Minister, 23 August 1939 Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 60, pp. 132-135).
THE British Ambassador has just handed to me a communication in which your Excellency draws attention in the name of the British Government to a number of points which in your estimation are of the greatest importance.
I may be permitted to answer your letter as follows:-
1. Germany has never sought conflict with England and has never interfered in English interests. On the contrary, she has for years endeavoured-although unfortunately in vain-to win England’s friendship. On this account she voluntarily assumed in a wide area of Europe the limitations on her own interests which from a national-political point of view it would have otherwise been very difficult to tolerate.
2. The German Reich, however, like every other State possesses certain definite interests which it is impossible to renounce. These do not extend beyond the limits of the necessities laid down by former German history and deriving from vital economic pre-requisites. Some of these questions held and still hold a significance both of a national-political and a psychological character which no German Government is able to ignore.
To these questions belong the German City of Danzig, and the connected problem of the Corridor. Numerous statesmen, historians and men of letters even in England have been conscious of this at any rate up to a few years ago. I would add that all these territories lying in the aforesaid German sphere of interest and in particular those lands which returned to the Reich eighteen months ago received their cultural development at the hands not of the English but exclusively of the Germans and this, moreover, already from a time dating back over a thousand years.
3. Germany was prepared to settle the questions of Danzig and of the Corridor by the method of negotiation on the basis of a proposal of truly unparalleled magnanimity. The allegations disseminated by England regarding a German mobilisation against Poland, the assertion of aggressive designs towards Roumania, Hungary, &c., as well as the so-called guarantee declarations which were subsequently given had, however, dispelled Polish inclination to negotiate on a basis of this kind which would have been tolerable for Germany also.
4. The unconditional assurance given by England to Poland that she would render assistance to that country in all circumstances regardless of the causes from which a conflict might spring, could only be interpreted in that country as an encouragement thenceforward to unloosen, under cover of such a charter, a wave of appalling terrorism against the one and a half million German inhabitants living in Poland. The atrocities which since then have been taking place in that country are terrible for the victims, but intolerable for a Great Power such as the German Reich which is expected to remain a passive onlooker during these happenings. Poland has been guilty of numerous breaches of her legal obligations towards the Free City of Danzig, has made demands in the character of ultimata, and has initiated a process of economic strangulation.
5. The Government of the German Reich therefore recently caused the Polish Government to be informed that it was not prepared passively to accept this development of affairs, that it will not tolerate further addressing of notes in the character of ultimata to Danzig, that it will not tolerate a continuance of the persecutions of the German minority, that it will equally not tolerate the extermination of the Free City of Danzig by economic measures, in other words, the destruction of the vital bases of the population of Danzig by a kind of Customs blockade, and that it will not tolerate the occurrence of further acts of provocation directed against the Reich. Apart from this, the questions of the Corridor and of Danzig must and shall be solved.
6. Your Excellency informs me in the name of the British Government that you will be obliged to render assistance to Poland in any such case of intervention on the part of Germany. I take note of this statement of yours and assure you that it can make no change in the determination of the Reich Government to safeguard the interests of the Reich as stated in paragraph 5 above. Your assurance to the effect that in such an event you anticipate a long war is shared by myself. Germany, if attacked by England, will be found prepared and determined. I have already more than once declared before the German people and the world that there can be no doubt concerning the determination of the new German Reich rather to accept, for however long it might be, every sort of misery and tribulation than to sacrifice its national interests, let alone its honour.
7. The German Reich Government has received information to the effect that the British Government has the intention to carry out measures of mobilisation which, according to the statements contained in your own letter, are clearly directed against Germany alone. This is said to be true of France as well. Since Germany has never had the intention of taking military measures other than those of a defensive character against England or France, and, as has already been emphasised, has never intended, and does not in the future intend, to attack England or France, it follows that this announcement as confirmed by you, Mr. Prime Minister, in your own letter, can only refer to a contemplated act of menace directed against the Reich. I therefore inform your Excellency that, in the event of these military announcements being carried into effect, I shall order immediate mobilisation of the German forces.
8. The question of the treatment of European problems on a peaceful basis is not a decision which rests on Germany but primarily on those who since the crime committed by the Versailles dictate have stubbornly and consistently opposed any peaceful revision. Only after a change of spirit on the part of the responsible Powers can there be any real change in the relationship between England and Germany. I have all my life fought for Anglo-German friendship; the attitude adopted by British diplomacy-at any rate up to the present-has, however, convinced me of the futility of such an attempt. Should there be any change in this respect in the future nobody could be happier than I.
Speech by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the House of Lords, 24 August, 1939 Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 65, pp. 145-153)
MY Lords, I am glad to accede to the invitation of the noble Lord opposite, and perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I make a statement of somewhat greater length than is customary in answer to a formal question. It will perhaps be of some usefulness if I sketch in a word or two the background of the international developments which have led to the recall of Parliament. The events of this year are fresh in all our minds, and the cumulative effect of them had been to lead many countries of Europe to feel themselves confronted with an attempt on the part of Germany to dominate and control their destiny, and there were few which had not reason to fear that their liberties were in greater or less degree in danger. As a matter of history, successive British Governments have felt obliged to resist attempts by a single Power to dominate Europe at the expense of others, and the imposition of one country’s will by force of arms. This country has stood for the maintenance of the independence of those States who both valued their liberties and were ready to defend them, and have endeavoured to uphold the principle that changes which must inevitably take place in the relations between nations can and should be effected peacefully and by free negotiation between those concerned.
His Majesty’s Government accordingly entered into consultation with the countries who felt themselves to be more immediately threatened, for the sole purpose of concerting resistance to further aggression if such should be attempted. His Majesty’s Government at the same time endeavoured to make clear their attitude both by word and deed so that no doubt might anywhere exist as to the policy which they were determined to pursue. They introduced compulsory service and made efforts unprecedented in times of peace to expand and equip the armed forces of the Crown and to place both the civil and military defences of the country in a state of full preparedness. The declarations of policy which have been made in this House and in another place have sought to set out both general principles of British policy and also the attitude of His Majesty’s Government to particular questions, such as Danzig, which have from time to time held the forefront of the stage. The declarations which were thus made and the action which was taken met, I think, with the general approval both of Parliament and people.
Before the adjournment early this month my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that the situation, in which the accumulation of the weapons of war was going on at such a pace, was one which could not but be regarded with anxiety. He referred to the bad feeling which was being created by poisonous propaganda, and said that if that could be stopped and if some action could be taken to restore confidence in Europe, there was no question which should not be capable of solution by a peaceful means. Of such action, however, there has unhappily been no sign, and since the House adjourned the international situation has deteriorated, until to-day we are confronted with the imminent peril of war….
Certain necessary measures of precaution have already been taken. Some of these measures have already been announced, and other steps will be taken, as judged necessary, as soon as the legislation is passed, which I understand it is proposed to invite your Lordships to consider this afternoon. There is another action which has been taken to-day in the financial sphere. Your Lordships will have seen the announcement that the bank rate, which has remained for a long time past at 2 per cent., has to-day been raised to 4 per cent. The House will recognise that this is a normal protective measure, which is adopted for the purpose of defending our resources in a period of uncertainty. There is, in this connection, a contribution to be made generally by British citizens. The public can best co-operate by reducing, so far as possible, any demands which involve, directly or indirectly, the purchase of foreign exchange; next, by scrupulously observing the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s request that capital should not at present be sent or moved out of the country; and, finally, by holding no more foreign assets than are strictly required for the normal purpose of business.
My Lords, I have said that His Majesty’s Government have tried to make their position quite clear, but, in order that no possible doubt might exist in the mind of the German Government, His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin was instructed yesterday to seek an interview with Herr Hitler and to give him a message on His Majesty’s Government’s behalf. The object of this message to the German Chancellor was to restate our position and to make quite sure that there was no misunderstanding. His Majesty’s Government, as I have suggested, felt that that was all the more necessary having regard to the reports which we have received as to the military movements in Germany and as to the then projected German-Soviet Agreement. My right honourable Friend the Prime Minister, therefore, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, made it plain, as had, indeed, been made plain in the statement issued after the meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday last, that if the case should arise His Majesty’s Government were resolved and prepared to employ without delay all the forces at their command.
On numerous occasions the Prime Minister has stated his conviction, which is shared, I would suppose, by all people of this country, that war between the British and the German peoples-admitted on all sides to be the greatest calamity that could occur-was not desired either by our people or by the German people. And the Prime Minister further informed the German Chancellor that we did not see that there was anything in the questions arising between Germany and Poland which could not and should not be resolved without the use of force, if only a situation of confidence could be restored. We have expressed our willingness to assist in creating the conditions in which such negotiations could take place. It was obvious that the present state of tension created great difficulties, and the Prime Minister expressed the view that, if there could be a truce on all sides to press polemics and all incitements, a suitable condition might be established for direct negotiations between Germany and Poland upon the points between them. The negotiations could, of course, also deal with the complaints made on either side about the treatment of minorities.
The German Chancellor’s reply includes what amounts to a re-statement of the German thesis that Eastern Europe is a sphere in which Germany seeks to have a free hand; if we or any country having less direct interests choose to interfere, the blame for the ensuing conflict will be ours. The British position is, of course, that we do not in any way seek to claim a special position for ourselves; we do not think of asking Germany to sacrifice her national interests, but we do insist that the interests of other States should be respected. We cannot agree that national interests can only be secured by the shedding of blood or by the destruction of the independence of other States; and, unfortunately, events such as those of last March make it difficult to accept assurances, even now repeated, about the limitations of German interests. Herr Hitler has often said that he has fought for a better Anglo-German understanding, but it has, as we see it, been the acts of Herr Hitler himself that have time and again destroyed our earnest and sincere endeavours to that end; and as regards relations between Germany and Poland, the German Chancellor has referred again to the situation at Danzig, drawing attention to the position of that City and of the Corridor, and to the offer which he made only this year to settle those questions by methods of negotiation. The allegation that it was our guarantee to Poland that decided the Polish Government to refuse the proposals then made has been repeatedly refuted. That guarantee was not, in fact, given until after the Polish refusal had been conveyed to the German Government.
My Lords, in view of the delicacy of the situation I would refrain at this time from any further comment upon the communications which have just passed between the two Governments. Catastrophe has not yet come upon Europe, and we must, therefore, still hope that reason and sanity may find means to reassert themselves. As to the military measures that we have taken, it must be remembered that, as I have said, Germany has already an immense number of men under arms, and has also made military preparations of all kinds on a vast scale. The measures taken in this country have so far been only of a precautionary and defensive kind, but no threats will affect our determination to do what is necessary to prepare the country for any emergency. I would with emphasis repudiate any suggestion that the measures we are taking imply a contemplated act of menace on our part. Nothing that we have done or propose to do constitutes a threat to any of Germany’s legitimate interests. It is no act of menace to prepare oneself to help one’s friends to defend themselves against the use of force.
In a speech that I made some six weeks or two months ago to the Royal Institute of International Affairs I tried to set out in terms which were fortunate enough to meet with almost unanimous approval the twin foundations of purpose on which British policy rests. The first was a determination to resist force, and the second was the recognition of the world’s desire to get on with the constructive task of building peace. And if we could once, as I said, be satisfied that the intentions of others were the same as our own, and that we all really wanted peaceful solutions, then, I said, we could discuss all the problems that were causing the world anxiety. That definition of the policy of His Majesty’s Government stands. Our object is, and has been, to build an international order based on mutual understanding and mutual confidence, but that order can only rest on the basis of certain moral principles which are widely recognised to be essential to the peaceful and the orderly life of nations, and among those principles I place high the renunciation of forcible solutions and the respect for the pledged word in international relationships. And, fundamentally, it is those principles which are to-day as we see it in danger, and it is those principles which we consider it vital to try and protect.
There are some who say that the fate of European nations is no concern of ours, and that we should not look far beyond our own frontiers. But those who thus argue forget, I think, that in failing to uphold the liberties of others we run great risk of betraying the principle of liberty itself, and with it our own freedom and independence. We have built up a society with values which are accepted not only in this country but over vast areas of the world. If we stand by and see these values set at nought the security of all those things on which life itself depends seems, to my judgment, to be undermined, and that is a fundamental matter on which I scarcely think that there will be any difference of opinion. I have no doubt that those with whom rest the issues of peace and war will measure their responsibilities to present and future generations before precipitating a struggle in which many nations of Europe must immediately be involved, of which the duration cannot be foreseen, and by which even those who stand aside from active participation will be vitally and dangerously affected. And I would earnestly hope that in face of all the certain consequences of a resort to force, and before any step is taken which cannot be retraced, reason may yet prevail. His Majesty’s Government have noted with warm appreciation the appeal for peace made by King Leopold after the meeting at Brussels yesterday in the name of the heads of the Oslo States. It will be evident from what I have said that His Majesty’s Government share the hopes to which that appeal gave such moving expression, and earnestly trust that effect may be given to it.
My Lords, in this moment of anxiety I trust that the ground on which His Majesty’s Government have determined to take their stand will meet with the approval of all parties in this House. I believe it will, and I do not doubt that the Government may rely on the support of the whole country in any measures necessary to defend the cause of just dealing between the nations and to preserve secure the place of honourable freedom in the world.
Reply of His Majesty’s Government to the German Chancellor’s Communications of August 23 and 25, 1939; 28 August 1939 Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 74, pp. 162-165)
HIS Majesty’s Government have received the message conveyed to them from the German Chancellor by His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin, and have considered it with the care which it demands.
They note the Chancellor’s expression of his desire to make friendship the basis of the relations between Germany and the British Empire and they fully share this desire. They believe with him that if a complete and lasting understanding between the two countries could be established it would bring untold blessings to both peoples….
3. The condition which the German Chancellor lays down is that there must first be a settlement of the differences between Germany and Poland. As to that, His Majesty’s Government entirely agree. Everything, however, turns upon the nature of the settlement and the method by which it is to be reached. On these points, the importance of which cannot be absent from the Chancellor’s mind, his message is silent, and His Majesty’s Government feel compelled to point out that an understanding upon both of these is essential to achieving further progress. The German Government will be aware that His Majesty’s Government have obligations to Poland by which they are bound and which they intend to honour They could not, for any advantage offered to Great Britain, acquiesce in a settlement which put in jeopardy the independence of a State to whom they have given their guarantee.
4. In the opinion of His Majesty’s Government a reasonable solution of the differences between Germany and Poland could and should be effected by agreement between the two countries on lines which would include the safeguarding of Poland’s essential interests, and they recall that in his speech of the 28th April last the German Chancellor recognised the importance of these interests to Poland.
But, as was stated by the Prime Minister in his letter to the German Chancellor of the 22nd August, His Majesty’s Government consider it essential for the success of the discussions which would precede the agreement that it should be understood beforehand that any settlement arrived at would be guaranteed by other Powers. His Majesty’s Government would be ready if desired to make their contribution to the effective operation of such a guarantee.
In the view of His Majesty’s Government it follows that the next step should be the initiation of direct discussions between the German and Polish Governments on a basis which would include the principles stated above, namely, the safeguarding of Poland’s essential interests and the securing of the settlement by an international guarantee.
They have already received a definite assurance from the Polish Government that they are prepared to enter into discussions on this basis, and His Majesty’s Government hope the German Government would for their part also be willing to agree to this course.
If, as His Majesty’s Government hope, such discussion led to agreement the way would be open to the negotiation of that wider and more complete understanding between Great Britain and Germany which both countries desire.
5. His Majesty’s Government agree with the German Chancellor that one of the principal dangers in the German-Polish situation arises from the reports concerning the treatment of minorities. The present state of tension, with its concomitant frontier incidents, reports of maltreatment and inflammatory propaganda, is a constant danger to peace. It is manifestly a matter of the utmost urgency that all incidents of the kind should be promptly and rigidly suppressed and that unverified reports should not be allowed to circulate, in order that time may be afforded, without provocation on either side, for a full examination of the possibilities of settlement. His Majesty’s Government are confident that both the Governments concerned are fully alive to these considerations.
6. His Majesty’s Government have said enough to make their own attitude plain in the particular matters at issue between Germany and Poland. They trust that the German Chancellor will not think that, because His Majesty’s Government are scrupulous concerning their obligations to Poland, they are not anxious to use all their influence to assist the achievement of a solution which may commend itself both to Germany and to Poland.
That such a settlement should be achieved seems to His Majesty’s Government essential, not only for reasons directly arising in regard to the settlement itself, but also because of the wider considerations of which the German Chancellor has spoken with such conviction.
7. It is unnecessary in the present reply to stress the advantage of a peaceful settlement over a decision to settle the questions at issue by force of arms. The results of a decision to use force have been clearly set out in the Prime Minister’s letter to the Chancellor of the 22nd August, and His Majesty’s Government do not doubt that they are as fully recognised by the Chancellor as by themselves.
On the other hand, His Majesty’s Government, noting with interest the German Chancellor’s reference in the message now under consideration to a limitation of armaments, believe that, if a peaceful settlement can be obtained, the assistance of the world could confidently be anticipated for practical measures to enable the transition from preparation for war to the normal activities of peaceful trade to be safely and smoothly effected.
8. A just settlement of these questions between Germany and Poland may open the way to world peace. Failure to reach it would ruin the hopes of better understanding between Germany and Great Britain, would bring the two countries into conflict, and might well plunge the whole world into war. Such an outcome would be a calamity without parallel in history.
Reply of the German Chancellor to the Communication of August 28, 1939, from His Majesty’s Government; 29 August 1939 Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 78).
THE British Ambassador in Berlin has submitted to the British Government suggestions which I felt bound to make in order-
(1) to give expression once more to the will of the Reich Government for sincere Anglo-German understanding, co-operation and friendship;
(2) to leave no room for doubt as to fact that such an understanding could not be bought at the price of a renunciation of vital German interests, let alone the abandonment of demands which are based as much upon common human justice as upon the national dignity and honour of our people.
The German Government have noted with satisfaction from the reply of the British Government and from the oral explanations given by the British Ambassador that the British Government for their part are also prepared to improve the relationship between Germany and England and to develop and extend it in the sense of the German suggestion.
In this connexion, the British Government are similarly convinced that the removal of the German-Polish tension, which has become unbearable, is the pre-requisite for the realisation of this hope.
Since the autumn of the past year, and on the last occasion in March, 1939, there were submitted to the Polish Government proposals, both oral and written, which, having regard to the friendship then existing between Germany and Poland, offered the possibility of a solution of the questions in dispute acceptable to both parties. The British Government are aware that the Polish Government saw fit, in March last, finally to reject these proposals. At the same time, they used this rejection as a pretext or an occasion for taking military measures which have since been continuously intensified. Already in the middle of last month Poland was in effect in a state of mobilisation. This was accompanied by numerous encroachments in the Free City of Danzig due to the instigation of the Polish authorities; threatening demands in the nature of ultimata, varying only in degree, were addressed to that City. A closing of the frontiers, at first in the form of a measure of customs policy but extended later in a military sense affecting also traffic and communications, was imposed with the object of bringing about the political exhaustion and economic destruction of this German community.
To this were added barbaric actions of maltreatment which cry to Heaven, and other kinds of persecution of the large German national group in Poland which extended even to the killing of many resident Germans or to their forcible removal under the most cruel conditions. This state of affairs is unbearable for a Great Power. It has now forced Germany, after remaining a passive onlooker for many months, in her turn to take the necessary steps for the safeguarding of justified German interests. And indeed the German Government can but assure the British Government in the most solemn manner that a condition of affairs has now been reached which can no longer be accepted or observed with indifference.
The demands of the German Government are in conformity with the revision of the Versailles Treaty in regard to this territory which has always been recognised as being necessary: viz., return of Danzig and the Corridor to Germany, the safeguarding of the existence of the German national group in the territories remaining to Poland.
The German Government note with satisfaction that the British Government also are in principle convinced that some solution must be found for the new situation which has arisen.
They further feel justified in assuming that the British Government too can have no doubt that it is a question now of conditions, for the elimination of which there no longer remain days, still less weeks, but perhaps only hours. For in the disorganised state of affairs obtaining in Poland, the possibility of incidents intervening, which it might be impossible for Germany to tolerate, must at any moment be reckoned with.
While the British Government may still believe that these grave differences can be resolved by way of direct negotiations, the German Government unfortunately can no longer share this view as a matter of course. For they have made the attempt to embark on such peaceful negotiations, but, instead of receiving any support from the Polish Government, they were rebuffed by the sudden introduction of measures of a military character in favour of the development alluded to above.
The British Government attach importance to two considerations: (1) that the existing danger of an imminent explosion should be eliminated as quickly as possible by direct negotiation, and (2) that the existence of the Polish State, in the form in which it would then continue to exist, should be adequately safeguarded in the economic and political sphere by means of international guarantees.
On this subject the German Government makes the following declaration:-
Though sceptical as to the prospects of a successful outcome, they are nevertheless prepared to accept the English proposal and to enter into direct discussions. They do so, as has already been emphasised, solely as the result of the impression made upon them by the written statement received from the British Government that they too desire a pact of friendship in accordance with the general lines indicated to the British Ambassador.
The German Government desire in this way to give the British Government and the British nation a proof of the sincerity of Germany’s intentions to enter into a lasting friendship with Great Britain.
The Government of the Reich felt, however, bound to point out to the British Government that in the event of a territorial rearrangement in Poland they would no longer be able to bind themselves to give guarantees or to participate in guarantees without the U.S.S.R. being associated therewith.
For the rest, in making these proposals the German Government have never had any intention of touching Poland’s vital interests or questioning the existence of an independent Polish State. The German Government, accordingly, in these circumstances agree to accept the British Government’s offer of their good offices in securing the despatch to Berlin of a Polish Emissary with full powers. They count on the arrival of this Emissary on Wednesday, the 30th August, 1939.
The German Government will immediately draw up proposals for a solution acceptable to themselves and will, if possible, place these at the disposal of the British Government before the arrival of the Polish negotiator.
Reply of His Majesty’s Government to the German Chancellor’s Communication of August 29, 1939; 30 August 1939 Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 89, pp. 184-185)
His Majesty’s Government appreciate the friendly reference in the Declaration contained in the reply of the German Government to the latter’s desire for an Anglo-German understanding and to their statement of the influence which this consideration has exercised upon their policy.
2. His Majesty’s Government repeat that they reciprocate the German Government’s desire for improved relations, but it will be recognised that they could not sacrifice the interests of other friends in order to obtain that improvement. They fully understand that the German Government cannot sacrifice Germany’s vital interests, but the Polish Government are in the same position and His Majesty’s Government believe that the vital interests of the two countries are not incompatible.
3. His Majesty’s Government note that the German Government accept the British proposal and are prepared to enter into direct discussions with the Polish Government.
4. His Majesty’s Government understand that the German Government accept in principle the condition that any settlement should be made the subject of an international guarantee. The question of who shall participate in this guarantee will have to be discussed further, and His Majesty’s Government hope that to avoid loss of time the German Government will take immediate steps to obtain the assent of the U.S.S.R., whose participation in the Guarantee His Majesty’s Government have always assumed.
5. His Majesty’s Government also note that the German Government accept the position of the British Government as to Poland’s vital interests and independence.
6. His Majesty’s Government must make an express reservation in regard to the statement of the particular demands put forward by the German Government in an earlier passage in their reply. They understand that the German Government are drawing up proposals for a solution. No doubt these proposals will be fully examined during the discussions. It can then be determined how far they are compatible with the essential conditions which His Majesty’s Government have stated and which in principle the German Government have expressed their willingness to accept.
7. His Majesty’s Government are at once informing the Polish Government of the German Government’s reply. The method of contact and arrangements for discussions must obviously be agreed with all urgency between the German and Polish Governments, but in His Majesty’s Government’s view it would be impracticable to establish contact so early as to-day.
8. His Majesty’s Government fully recognise the need for speed in the initiation of discussion, and they share the apprehensions of the Chancellor arising from the proximity of two mobilised armies standing face to face. They would accordingly most strongly urge that both parties should undertake that, during the negotiations, no aggressive military movements will take place. His Majesty’s Government feel confident that they could obtain such an undertaking from the Polish Government if the German Government would give similar assurances.
9. Further, His Majesty’s Government would suggest that a temporary modus vivendi might be arranged for Danzig, which might prevent the occurrence of incidents tending to render German-Polish relations more difficult.
Speech by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, 1 September 1939Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 105, pp. 202-207)
The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain): I do not propose to say many words to-night. The time has come when action rather than speech is required. Eighteen months ago in this House I prayed that the responsibility might not fall upon me to ask this country to accept the awful arbitrament of war. I fear that I may not be able to avoid that responsibility. But, at any rate, I cannot wish for conditions in which such a burden should fall upon me in which I should feel clearer than I do to-day as to where my duty lies. No man can say that the Government could have done more to try to keep open the way for an honourable and equitable settlement of the dispute between Germany and Poland. Nor have we neglected any means of making it crystal clear to the German Government that if they insisted on using force again in the manner in which they had used it in the past we were resolved to oppose them by force. Now that all the relevant documents are being made public we shall stand at the bar of history knowing that the responsibility for this terrible catastrophe lies on the shoulders of one man-the German Chancellor, who has not hesitated to plunge the world into misery in order to serve his own senseless ambitions….
It will be seen by examination of the White Paper that the German Government had stated that they counted upon the arrival of a plenipotentiary from Poland in Berlin on the 30th, that is to say, on the following day. In the meantime, of course, we were awaiting these proposals. The next evening, when our Ambassador saw Herr von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Secretary, he urged upon the latter that when these proposals were ready-for we had heard no more about them-he should invite the Polish Ambassador to call and should hand him the proposals for transmission to his Government. Thereupon, reports our Ambassador, in the most violent terms Herr von Ribbentrop said he would never ask the Ambassador to visit him. He hinted that if the Polish Ambassador asked him for an interview it might be different….
Now what of ourselves? On that Wednesday night, at the interview to which I have just referred, Herr von Ribbentrop produced a lengthy document which he read out in German, aloud, at top speed. Naturally, after this reading our Ambassador asked for a copy of the document, but the reply was that it was now too late, as the Polish representative had not arrived in Berlin by midnight. And so, Sir, we never got a copy of those proposals, and the first time we heard them-we heard them-was on the broadcast last night. Well, Sir, those are the circumstances in which the German Government said that they would consider that their proposals were rejected. Is it not clear that their conception of a negotiation was that on almost instantaneous demand a Polish plenipotentiary should go to Berlin-where others had been before him-and should there receive a statement of demands to be accepted in their entirety or refused? I am not pronouncing any opinion upon the terms themselves, for I do not feel called upon to do so. The proper course, in our view-in the view of all of us-was that these proposals should have been put before the Poles, who should have been given time to consider them and to say whether, in their opinion, they did or did not infringe those vital interests of Poland which Germany had assured us on a previous occasion she intended to respect. Only last night the Polish Ambassador did see the German Foreign Secretary, Herr von Ribbentrop. Once again he expressed to him what, indeed, the Polish Government had already said publicly, that they were willing to negotiate with Germany about their disputes on an equal basis. What was the reply of the German Government? The reply was that without another word the German troops crossed the Polish frontier this morning at dawn and are since reported to be bombing open towns. [An Hon. Member: “Gas?”] In these circumstances there is only one course open to us. His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin and the French Ambassador have been instructed to hand to the German Government the following document:-
“Early this morning the German Chancellor issued a proclamation to the German Army which indicated clearly that he was about to attack Poland. Information which has reached His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the French Government indicates that German troops have crossed the Polish frontier and that attacks upon Polish towns are proceeding. In these circumstances it appears to the Governments of the United Kingdom and France that by their action the German Government have created conditions, namely, an aggressive act of force against Poland threatening the independence of Poland, which call for the implementation by the Governments of the United Kingdom and France of the undertaking to Poland to come to her assistance. I am accordingly to inform your Excellency that unless the German Government are prepared to give His Majesty’s Government satisfactory assurances that the German Government have suspended all aggressive action against Poland and are prepared promptly to withdraw their forces from Polish territory, His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom will without hesitation fulfil their obligations to Poland.”
[An Hon. Member: “Time limit?”.] If a reply to this last warning is unfavourable, and I do not suggest that it is likely to be otherwise, His Majesty’s Ambassador is instructed to ask for his passports. In that case we are ready. Yesterday, we took further steps towards the completion of our defensive preparations. This morning we ordered complete mobilisation of the whole of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. We have also taken a number of other measures, both at home and abroad, which the House will not perhaps expect me to specify in detail. Briefly, they represent the final steps in accordance with prearranged plans. These last can be put into force rapidly, and are of such a nature that they can be deferred until war seems inevitable. Steps have also been taken under the powers conferred by the House last week to safeguard the position in regard to stocks of commodities of various kinds.
The thoughts of many of us must at this moment inevitably be turning back to 1914, and to a comparison of our position now with that which existed then. How do we stand this time? The answer is that all three Services are ready, and that the situation in all directions is far more favourable and reassuring than in 1914, while behind the fighting Services we have built up a vast organisation of Civil Defence under our scheme of Air Raid Precautions. As regards the immediate man-power requirements, the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force are in the fortunate position of having almost as many men as they can conveniently handle at this moment. There are, however, certain categories of service in which men are immediately required, both for Military and Civil Defence. These will be announced in detail through the Press and the B.B.C. The main and most satisfactory point to observe is that there is to-day no need to make an appeal in a general way for recruits such as was issued by Lord Kitchener 25 years ago. That appeal has been anticipated by many months, and the men are already available.
So much for the immediate present. Now we must look to the future. It is essential in the face of the tremendous task which confronts us, more especially in view of our past experiences in this matter, to organise our man-power this time upon as methodical, equitable and economical a basis as possible. We, therefore, propose immediately to introduce legislation directed to that end. A Bill will be laid before you which for all practical purposes will amount to an expansion of the Military Training Act. Under its operation all fit men between the ages of 18 and 41 will be rendered liable to military service if and when called upon. It is not intended at the outset that any considerable number of men other than those already liable shall be called up, and steps will be taken to ensure that the man-power essentially required by industry shall not be taken away.
There is one other allusion which I should like to make before I end my speech, and that is to record my satisfaction, and the satisfaction of His Majesty’s Government, that throughout these last days of crisis Signor Mussolini also has been doing his best to reach a solution.
It now only remains for us to set our teeth and to enter upon this struggle, which we ourselves earnestly endeavoured to avoid, with determination to see it through to the end. We shall enter it with a clear conscience, with the support of the Dominions and the British Empire, and the moral approval of the greater part of the world. We have no quarrel with the German people, except that they allow themselves to be governed by a Nazi Government. As long as that Government exists and pursues the methods it has so persistently followed during the last two years, there will be no peace in Europe. We shall merely pass from one crisis to another, and see one country after another attacked by methods which have now become familiar to us in their sickening technique. We are resolved that these methods must come to an end. If out of the struggle we again re-establish in the world the rules of good faith and the renunciation of force, why, then even the sacrifices that will be entailed upon us will find their fullest justification.
Hitler’s Speech to the Reichstag, 1 September 1939Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 106)
FOR months we have been suffering under the torture of a problem which the Versailles Diktat created-a problem which has deteriorated until it becomes intolerable for us. Danzig was and is a German city. The Corridor was and is German. Both these territories owe their cultural development exclusively to the German people. Danzig was separated from us, the Corridor was annexed by Poland. As in other German territories of the East, all German minorities living there have been ill-treated in the most distressing manner. More than 1,000,000 people of German blood had in the years 1919-20 to leave their homeland.
As always, I attempted to bring about, by the peaceful method of making proposals for revision, an alteration of this intolerable position. It is a lie when the outside world says that we only tried to carry through our revisions by pressure. Fifteen years before the National Socialist Party came to power there was the opportunity of carrying out these revisions by peaceful settlements and understanding. On my own initiative I have, not once but several times, made proposals for the revision of intolerable conditions. All these proposals, as you know, have been rejected-proposals for limitation of armaments and ever, if necessary, disarmament, proposals for the limitation of war-making, proposals for the elimination of certain methods of modern warfare. You know the proposals that I have made to fulfil the necessity of restoring German sovereignty over German territories. You know the endless attempts I made for a peaceful clarification and understanding of the problem of Austria, and later of the problem of the Sudetenland, Bohemia, and Moravia. It was all in vain.
It is impossible to demand that an impossible position should be cleared up by peaceful revision and at the same time constantly reject peaceful revision. It is also impossible to say that he who undertakes to carry out these revisions for himself transgresses a law, since the Versailles Diktat is not law to us. A signature was forced out of us with pistols at our head and with the threat of hunger for millions of people. And then this document, with our signature, obtained by force, was proclaimed as a solemn law.
In the same way, I have also tried to solve the problem of Danzig, the Corridor, &c., by proposing a peaceful discussion. That the problems had to be solved was clear. It is quite understandable to us that the time when the problem was to be solved had little interest for the Western Powers. But that time is not a matter of indifference to us. Moreover, it was not and could not be a matter of indifference to those who suffer most.
In my talks with Polish statesmen I discussed the ideas which you recognise from my last speech to the Reichstag. No one could say that this was in any way an inadmissible procedure or undue pressure. I then naturally formulated at last the German proposals, and I must once more repeat that there is nothing more modest or loyal than these proposals. I should like to say this to the world. I alone was in the position to make such proposals, for I know very well that in doing so I brought myself into opposition to millions of Germans. These proposals have been refused. Not only were they answered first with mobilisation, but with increased terror and pressure against our German compatriots and with a slow strangling of the Free City of Danzig-economically, politically, and in recent weeks by military and transport means.
Poland has directed its attacks against the Free City of Danzig. Moreover, Poland was not prepared to settle the Corridor question in a reasonable way which would be equitable to both parties, and she did not think of keeping her obligations to minorities.
I must here state something definitely; Germany has kept these obligations; the minorities who live in Germany are not persecuted. No Frenchman can stand up and say that any Frenchman living in the Saar territory is oppressed, tortured, or deprived of his rights. Nobody can say this.
For four months I have calmly watched developments, although I never ceased to give warnings. In the last few days I have increased these warnings. I informed the Polish Ambassador three weeks ago that if Poland continued to send to Danzig notes in the form of ultimata, if Poland continued its methods of oppression against the Germans, and if on the Polish side an end was not put to Customs measures destined to ruin Danzig’s trade, then the Reich could not remain inactive. I left no doubt that people who wanted to compare the Germany of to-day with the former Germany would be deceiving themselves.
An attempt was made to justify the oppression of the Germans by claiming that they had committed acts of provocation. I do not know in what these provocations on the part of women and children consist, if they themselves are maltreated, in some cases killed. One thing I do know-that no great Power can with honour long stand by passively and watch such events.
I made one more final effort to accept a proposal for mediation on the part of the British Government. They proposed, not that they themselves should carry on the negotiations, but rather that Poland and Germany should come into direct contact and once more to pursue negotiations.
I must declare that I accepted this proposal, and I worked out a basis for these negotiations which are known to you. For two whole days I sat with my Government and waited to see whether it was convenient for the Polish Government to send a plenipotentiary or not. Last night they did not send us a plenipotentiary, but instead informed us through their Ambassador that they were still considering whether and to what extent they were in a position to go into the British proposals. The Polish Government also said that they would inform Britain of their decision.
Deputies, if the German Government and its Leader patiently endured such treatment Germany would deserve only to disappear from the political stage. But I am wrongly judged if my love of peace and my patience are mistaken for weakness or even cowardice. I, therefore, decided last night and informed the British Government that in these circumstances I can no longer find any willingness on the part of the Polish Government to conduct serious negotiations with us.
These proposals for mediation have failed because in the meanwhile there, first of all, came as an answer the sudden Polish general mobilisation, followed by more Polish atrocities. These were again repeated last night. Recently in one night there were as many as twenty-one frontier incidents; last night there were fourteen, of which three were quite serious. I have, therefore, resolved to speak to Poland in the same language that Poland for months past has used towards us. This attitude on the part of the Reich will not change.
The other European States understand in part our attitude. I should like here above all to thank Italy, which throughout has supported us, but you will understand that for the carrying on of this struggle we do not intend to appeal to foreign help. We will carry out this task ourselves. The neutral States have assured us of their neutrality, just as we had already guaranteed it to them.
When statesmen in the West declare that this affects their interests, I can only regret such a declaration. It cannot for a moment make me hesitate to fulfil my duty. What more is wanted? I have solemnly assured them, and I repeat it, that we ask nothing of these Western States and never will ask anything.
I have declared that the frontier between France and Germany is a final one. I have repeatedly offered friendship and, if necessary, the closest co-operation to Britain, but this cannot be offered from one side only. It must find response on the other side. Germany has no interests in the West, and our western wall is for all time the frontier of the Reich on the west. Moreover, we have no aims of any kind there for the future. With this assurance we are in solemn earnest, and as long as others do not violate their neutrality we will likewise take every care to respect it.
I am happy particularly to be able to tell you of one event. You know that Russia and Germany are governed by two different doctrines. There was only one question that had to be cleared up. Germany has no intention of exporting its doctrine. Given the fact that Soviet Russia has no intention of exporting its doctrine to Germany, I no longer see any reason why we should still oppose one another. On both sides we are clear on that. Any struggle between our people would only be of advantage to others. We have, therefore, resolved to conclude a pact which rules out for ever any use of violence between us. It imposes the obligation on us to consult together in certain European questions. It makes possible for us economic co-operation, and above all it assures that the powers of both these powerful States are not wasted against one another. Every attempt of the West to bring about any change in this will fail.
At the same time I should like here to declare that this political decision means a tremendous departure for the future, and that it is a final one. Russia and Germany fought against one another in the World War. That shall and will not happen a second time. In Moscow, too, this pact was greeted exactly as you greet it. I can only endorse word for word the speech of the Russian Foreign Commissar, Molotov.
I am determined to solve (1) the Danzig question; (1) the question of the Corridor; and (3) to see to it that a change is made in the relationship between Germany and Poland that shall ensure a peaceful co-existence. In this I am resolved to continue to fight until either the present Polish Government is willing to bring about this change or until another Polish Government is ready to do so. I am resolved to remove from the German frontiers the element of uncertainty, the everlasting atmosphere of conditions resembling civil war. I will see to it that in the East there is, on the frontier, a peace precisely similar to that on our other frontiers.
In this I will take the necessary measures to see that they do not contradict the proposals I have already made known in the Reichstag itself to the rest of the world, that is to say, I will not war against women and children. I have ordered my air force to restrict itself to attacks on military objectives. If, however, the enemy thinks he can from that draw carte blanche on his side to fight by the other methods he will receive an answer that will deprive him of hearing and sight.
This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory. Since 5:45 a. m. we have been returning the fire, and from now on bombs will be met with bombs. Whoever fights with poison gas will be fought with poison gas. Whoever departs from the rules of humane warfare can only expect that we shall do the same. I will continue this struggle, no matter against whom, until the safety of the Reich and its rights are secured.
For six years now I have been working on the building up of the German defences. Over 90 milliards have in that time been spent on the building up of these defence forces. They are now the best equipped and are above all comparison with what they were in 1914. My trust in them is unshakable. When I called up these forces and when I now ask sacrifices of the German people and if necessary every sacrifice, then I have a right to do so, for I also am to-day absolutely ready, just as we were formerly, to make every personal sacrifice.
I am asking of no German man more than I myself was ready throughout four years at any time to do. There will be no hardships for Germans to which I myself will not submit. My whole life henceforth belongs more than ever to my people. I am from now on just first soldier of the German Reich. I have once more put on that coat that was the most sacred and dear to me. I will not take it off again until victory is secured, or I will not survive the outcome.
Should anything happen to me in the struggle then my first successor is Party Comrade Goring; should anything happen to Party Comrade Goring my next successor is Party Comrade Hess.
You would then be under obligation to give to them as FÃ¼hrer the same blind loyalty and obedience as to myself. Should anything happen to Party Comrade Hess, then by law the Senate will be called, and will choose from its midst the most worthy-that is to say the bravest-successor.
As a National Socialist and as German soldier I enter upon this struggle with a stout heart. My whole life has been nothing but one long struggle for my people, for its restoration, and for Germany. There was only one watchword for that struggle: faith in this people. One word I have never learned: that is, surrender.
If, however, anyone thinks that we are facing a hard time, I should ask him to remember that once a Prussian King, with a ridiculously small State, opposed a stronger coalition, and in three wars finally came out successful because that State had that stout heart that we need in these times. I would, therefore, like to assure all the world that a November 1918 will never be repeated in German history. Just as I myself am ready at any time to stake my life-anyone can take it for my people and for Germany-so I ask the same of all others.
Whoever, however, thinks he can oppose this national command, whether directly or indirectly, shall fall. We have nothing to do with traitors. We are all faithful to our old principle. It is quite unimportant whether we ourselves live, but it is essential that our people shall live, that Germany shall live. The sacrifice that is demanded of us is not greater than the sacrifice that many generations have made. If we form a community closely bound together by vows, ready for anything, resolved never to surrender, then our will will master every hardship and difficulty. And I would like to close with the declaration that I once made when I began the struggle for power in the Reich. I then said: “If our will is so strong that no hardship and suffering can subdue it, then our will and our German might shall prevail.”
Hitler’s Proclamations to the German People and the German Army, 3 September 1939Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 121)
Appeal to the German People.
GREAT BRITAIN has for centuries pursued the aim of rendering the peoples of Europe defenceless against the British policy of world conquest by proclaiming a balance of power, in which Great Britain claimed the right to attack on threadbare pretexts and destroy that European State which at the moment seemed most dangerous. Thus, at one time, she fought the world power of Spain, later the Dutch, then the French, and, since the year 1871, the German.
We ourselves have been witnesses of the policy of encirclement which has been carried on by Great Britain against Germany since before the war. Just as the German nation had begun, under its National Socialist leadership, to recover from the frightful consequences of the Diktat of Versailles, and threatened to survive the crisis, the British encirclement immediately began once more.
The British war inciters spread the lie before the War that the battle was only against the House of Hohenzollern or German militarism; that they had no designs on German colonies; that they had no intention of taking the German mercantile fleet. They then oppressed the German people under the Versailles Diktat the faithful fulfilment of which would have sooner or later exterminated 20 million Germans.
I undertook to mobilise the resistance of the German nation against this, and to assure work and bread for them. But as the peaceful revision of the Versailles Diktat of force seemed to be succeeding, and the German people again began to live, the new British encirclement policy was resumed. The same lying inciters appeared as in 1914. I have many times offered Great Britain and the British people the understanding and friendship of the German people. My whole policy was based on the idea of this understanding. I have always been repelled. I had for years been aware that the aim of these war inciters had for long been to take Germany by surprise at a favourable opportunity.
I am more firmly determined than ever to beat back this attack. Germany shall not again capitulate. There is no sense in sacrificing one life after another and submitting to an even worse Versailles Diktat. We have never been a nation of slaves and will not be one in the future. Whatever Germans in the past had to sacrifice for the existence of our realm, they shall not be greater than those which we are to-day prepared to make.
This resolve is an inexorable one. It necessitates the most thorough measures, and imposes on us one law above all others: If the soldier is fighting at the front, no one shall profit by the war. If the soldier falls at the front no one at home shall evade his duty.
As long as the German people was united it has never been conquered. It was the lack of unity in 1918 that led to collapse. Whoever offends against this unity need expect nothing else than annihilation as an enemy of the nation. If our people fulfils its highest duty in this sense, that God will help us who has always bestowed His mercy on him who was determined to help himself.
Appeal to the German Army on the Western Front.
Soldiers of the Western Army; just as before the War, so after the War Great Britain has pursued the policy of Germany’s encirclement. In spite of the fact that Germany has no demands to make on any other State to the West of the Reich; in spite of the fact that Germany claims no territorial revision in this territory; and in spite of the fact that Germany has made, above all to Great Britain just as to France, the offer of a cordial understanding, indeed of friendship. The British Government, driven on by those warmongers whom we knew in the last War, have resolved to let fall their mask and to proclaim war on a threadbare pretext.
The German people and your comrades in the East now expect from you, soldiers of the Western Front, that you shall protect the frontiers of the Reich, unshakable as a wall of steel and iron, against every attack, in an array of fortifications which is a hundred times stronger than that western front of the Great War, which was never conquered.
If you do your duty, the battle in the East will have reached its successful conclusion in a few months, and then the power of the whole National Socialist State stands behind you. As an old soldier of the World War, and as your Supreme Commander, I am going, with confidence in you, to the Army on the East. Our plutocratic enemies will realise that they are now dealing with a different Germany from that of the year 1914.
(Signed ADOLF HITLER.)
The Prime Minister’s Broadcast to the German People, 4 September 1939Top
Source: Great Britain. 1939. The British War Blue Book: Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities Between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, Miscellaneous No. 9. New York: Farrar & Rhinehart. (Doc. 144, pp. 249-251)
GERMAN PEOPLE.-Your country and mine are now at war. Your Government has bombed and invaded the free and independent State of Poland, which this country is in honour bound to defend. Because your troops were not withdrawn in response to the Note which the British Government addressed to the German Government, war has followed.
With the horrors of war we are familiar. God knows this country has done everything possible to prevent this calamity. But now that the invasion of Poland by Germany has taken place, it has become inevitable.
You are told by your Government that you are fighting because Poland rejected your Leader’s offer and resorted to force. What are the facts? The so-called “offer” was made to the Polish Ambassador in Berlin on Thursday evening, two hours before the announcement by your Government that it had been “rejected.” So far from having been rejected, there had been no time even to consider it.
Your Government had previously demanded that a Polish representative should be sent to Berlin within twenty-four hours to conclude an agreement. At that time the 16 Points subsequently put forward had not even been communicated to the Polish Government. The Polish representative was expected to arrive within a fixed time to sign an agreement which he had not even seen. This is not negotiation. This is a dictate. To such methods no self-respecting and powerful State could assent. Negotiations on a free and equal basis might well have settled the matter in dispute.
You may ask why Great Britain is concerned. We are concerned because we gave our word of honour to defend Poland against aggression. Why did we feel it necessary to pledge ourselves to defend this Eastern Power when our interests lie in the West, and when your Leader has said he has no interest to the West? The answer is-and I regret to have to say it-that nobody in this country any longer places any trust in your Leader’s word.
He gave his word that he would respect the Locarno Treaty; he broke it. He gave his word that he neither wished nor intended to annex Austria; he broke it. He declared that he would not incorporate the Czechs in the Reich; he did so. He gave his word after Munich that he had no further territorial demands in Europe; he broke it. He gave his word that he wanted no Polish provinces; he broke it. He has sworn to you for years that he was the mortal enemy of Bolshevism; he is now its ally.
Can you wonder his word is, for us, not worth the paper it is written on?
The German-Soviet Pact was a cynical volte face, designed to shatter the Peace Front against aggression. This gamble failed. The Peace Front stands firm. Your Leader is now sacrificing you, the German people, to the still more monstrous gamble of a war to extricate himself from the impossible position into which he has led himself and you.
In this war we are not fighting against you, the German people, for whom we have no bitter feeling, but against a tyrannous and forsworn regime which has betrayed not only its own people but the whole of Western civilisation and all that you and we hold dear.
May God defend the right!