Even many people who consider themselves well-informed about Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich are ignorant of the German leader’s numerous efforts for peace in Europe, including serious proposals for armaments reductions, and limits on weapons deployment, which were spurned by the leaders of France, Britain and other powers.
Hitler’s first major speech on foreign policy after taking office as Chancellor, delivered to the Reichstag on May 17, 1933, was a plea for peace, equal rights and mutual understanding among nations. So reasonable and persuasively argued was his appeal that it was endorsed even by representatives of the opposition Social Democratic Party. Two years later, in his Reichstag address of May 21, 1935, the German leader again stressed the need for peace on the basis of mutual respect and equal rights. Even the London Times regarded this speech as “reasonable, straightforward and comprehensive.”
Such appeals were not mere rhetoric. On March 31, 1936, for example, Hitler’s government announced a comprehensive plan for strengthening peace in Europe. The detailed paper included numerous specific proposals, including demilitarization of the entire Rhineland region, a western Europe security agreement, and categorical prohibition of incendiary bombs, poison gas, heavy tanks and heavy artillery.
Although this wide-ranging offer, and others like it, were rejected by leaders in London, Paris, Warsaw and Prague, Hitler’s initiatives were not entirely fruitless. In January 1934, for example, his government concluded a ten-year non-aggression pact with Poland. (Unfortunately, the spirit of this treaty was later broken by the men who took power in Warsaw after the death of Poland’s Marshal Pilsudski in 1935.) One of Hitler’s most important foreign policy successes was a comprehensive naval agreement with Britain, signed in June 1935. (This agreement, incidentally, abrogated the Treaty of Versailles, thereby showing that neither London nor Berlin still regarded it as valid.)
For years Hitler sought an alliance with Britain, or least a cordial relationship based on mutual respect. In that effort, he took care not to offend British pride or sensibilities, or to make any proposal that might impair or threaten British interests. Hitler also worked for cordial relations with France, likewise taking care not to say or do anything that might offend French pride or infringe on French national interests. The sincerity of Hitler’s proposals to France, and the validity of his fear of possible French military aggression against Germany is underscored by the immense manpower and funding resources he devoted to construction of the vast Westwall(“Siegfried Line”) defensive fortifications on his nation’s western border.
Over the years, historians have tended either to ignore Hitler’s initiatives for reducing tensions and promoting peace, or to dismiss them as deceitful posturing. But if the responsible leaders in Britain and France during the 1930s had really regarded these proposals as bluff or insincere pretense, they could easily have exposed them as such by giving them serious consideration. Their unresponsive attitude suggests that they understood that Hitler’s proposals were sincere, but rejected them anyway because to accept them might jeopardize British-French political- military predominance in Europe.
In the following essay, a German scholar reviews proposals by Hitler and his government — especially in the years before the outbreak of war in 1939 – to promote peace and equal rights in Europe, reduce tensions, and greatly limit production and deployment of armaments.
The author, Friedrich Stieve (1884-1966), was a German historian and diplomat. During the First World War he served as press attaché with the German embassy in Stockholm. He represented Germany’s democratic government as his nation’s ambassador in Latvia, 1928- 1932. He then moved to Berlin where he headed the cultural- political affairs bureau of the German Foreign Office, 1932- 1939. He held a doctorate from the University of Heidelberg, and was a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Books by Stieve includeGeschichte des deutschen Volkes (1939), Wendepunkte europäischer Geschichte vom Dreißigjährigen Krieg bis zur Gegenwart (1941), and a collection of poems.
Here, below, is a translation of the lengthy essay by Dr. Stieve, Was die Welt nicht wollte: Hitlers Friedensangebote 1933-1939, issued by the “German Information Center” and published as a 16-page booklet in Berlin in 1940. Along with editions that were soon issued in French and Spanish, an English-language edition was published as a booklet, apparently in 1940, by the Washington Journal of Washington, DC.
Hitler did not want war in 1939 – and certainly not a general or global conflict. He earnestly sought a peaceful resolution of the dispute with Poland over the status of the ethnically German city-state of Danzig and the “Corridor” region, which was the immediate cause of conflict. The sincerity of his desire for peace in 1939, and his fear of another world war, has been affirmed by a number of scholars, including the eminent British historian A. J. P. Taylor. It was, of course, the declarations of war against Germany by Britain and France on Sept. 3, 1939, made with secret encouragement by US President Roosevelt, that transformed the limited German-Polish clash into a larger, continent- wide war.
To justify its declaration of war, Britain protested that Germany had violated Polish sovereignty, and threatened Poland’s independence. The emptiness and insincerity of these stated reasons is shown by the fact that the British leaders did not declare war against Soviet Russia two weeks later when Soviet forces attacked the Polish Republic from the East. Britain’s betrayal of Poland, and the hypocrisy of its claimed reasons for going to war against Germany in 1939, became even more obvious in 1944-45 when Britain’s leaders permitted the complete Soviet takeover and subjugation of Poland.
Germany’s six-week military campaign of May-June 1940 ended with a stunning victory over numerically superior French and British forces, and the rout of British troops from the European mainland. In the aftermath of this historic triumph, Hitler and his government made yet another important effort to end the war. (Because it was made in 1940, after Dr. Stieve’s essay was written and published, it is not included in the text, below.)
In a speech delivered to the Reichstag on July 19, 1940, which was broadcast on radio stations around the world, the German leader said:
“… From London I now hear a cry – it’s not the cry of the mass of people, but rather of politicians – that the war must now, all the more, be continued … Believe me, my deputies, I feel an inner disgust at this kind of unscrupulous parliamentarian destroyers of peoples and countries … It never has been my intention to wage wars, but rather to build a new social state of the highest cultural level. Every year of this war keeps me from this work … Mr. Churchill has now once again declared that he wants war … I am fully aware that with our response, which one day will come, will also come nameless suffering and misfortune for many people …
“… In this hour I feel compelled, standing before my conscience, to direct yet another appeal to reason in England. I believe I can do this as I am not pleading for something as the vanquished, but rather, as the victor speaking in the name of reason. I see no compelling reason for this war to continue. I am grieved to think of the sacrifices it will claim … Possibly Mr. Churchill again will brush aside this statement of mine by saying that it is merely an expression of fear and of doubt in our final victory. In that case I shall have relieved my conscience in regard to the things to come.”
Following up on this appeal, German officials reached out to Britain through diplomatic channels. But Winston Churchill and his government rejected this initiative, and instead insisted on continuing the war. – with, of course, horrific consequences for Europe and the world.
— Mark Weber, June 2013
What the World Rejected
Hitler’s Peace Offers, 1933- 1939
By Friedrich Stieve
Germany’s enemies maintain today that Adolf Hitler is the greatest disturber of peace known to history, that he threatens every nation with sudden attack and oppression, that he has created a terrible war machine in order to bring misery and devastation everywhere. At the same time they intentionally conceal an all-important fact: they themselves drove the leader of the German people finally to draw the sword. They themselves compelled him to seek to obtain at last by the use of force that which he had been striving to gain by persuasion from the beginning: the security of his country. They did this not only by declaring war on him on September 3, 1939, but also by blocking step by step for seven years the path to any peaceful discussion.
The attempts repeatedly made by Adolf Hitler to induce the governments of other states to join with him in a collaborative restoration of Europe are part of an ever-recurring pattern in his conduct since the commencement of his labors for the German Reich. But these attempts were wrecked every time due to the fact that nowhere was there any willingness to give them due consideration, because the evil spirit of the [first] World War still prevailed everywhere, because in London and Paris and in the capitals of the western powers’ vassal states there was only one fixed intention: to perpetuate the power of [the imposed] Versailles [settlement of 1919].
A quick look at the most important events provides incontrovertible proof of this.
When Adolf Hitler came to the fore, Germany was as gagged and as helpless as the victors of 1918 intended her to be. Completely disarmed, with an army of only 100,000 men meant solely for police duties within the country, she found herself within a tightly closed ring of neighbors all armed to the teeth and allied together. To the old enemies in the West — Britain, Belgium and France — new ones were artificially created and added in the East and the South: above all Poland and Czechoslovakia. A quarter of the population of Germany was forcibly torn away from their mother country and handed over to foreign powers. The German Reich, mutilated on all sides and robbed of every means of defense, at any moment could become the helpless victim of a rapacious neighbor.
It was then that Adolf Hitler for the first time made his appeal to the common sense of the other powers. On May 17, 1933, a few months after his appointment to the post of Reich Chancellor, he delivered a speech in the German Reichstag that included the following passages:
“Germany will be perfectly ready to disband her entire military establishment and destroy the small amount of arms remaining to her, if the neighboring countries will do the same thing with equal thoroughness.
“… Germany is also entirely ready to renounce aggressive weapons of every sort if the armed nations, on their part, will destroy their aggressive weapons within a specified period, and if their use is forbidden by an international convention.
“… Germany is ready at any time to renounce aggressive weapons if the rest of the world does the same. Germany is prepared to agree to any solemn pact of non-aggression because she does not think of attacking anybody, but only of acquiring security.”
No answer was received.
The other powers heedlessly continued to fill their arsenals with weapons, to pile up their stores of explosives, to increase the numbers of their troops. At the same time the League of Nations, the instrument of the victorious powers, declared that Germany must first undergo a period of “probation” before it would be possible to discuss with her the question of the disarmament of the other countries. On October 14, 1933, Hitler withdrew from the League of Nations, with which it was impossible to reach an understanding. Shortly afterwards, however, on December 18, 1933, he came forward with a new proposal for the improvement of international relations. This proposal included the following six points:
“1. Germany receives full equality of rights.
2. The fully armed states undertake among themselves not to increase their armaments beyond their present level.
3. Germany adheres to this agreement, freely undertaking to make only so much actual moderate use of the equality of rights granted to her as will not represent a threat to the security of any other European power.
4. All states recognize certain obligations in regard to conducting war on humane principles, or not to use certain weapons against the civilian population.
5. All states accept a uniform general supervision that will monitor and ensure the observance of these obligations.
6. The European nations guarantee one another the unconditional maintenance of peace by the conclusion of non- aggression pacts, to be renewed after ten years.”
Following up on this, a proposal was made to increase the strength of the German army to 300,000 men, corresponding to the strength “required by Germany taking into account the length of her frontiers and the size of the armies of her neighbors,” in order to protect her threatened territory against attacks. The defender of the principle of peaceable agreement was thus trying to accommodate himself to the unwillingness of the others to disarm by expressing a desire for a limited increase of armaments for his own country. An exchange of notes, which began with this and continued for years, finally came to a sudden end with an unequivocal “no” from France. This “no” was moreover accompanied by tremendous increases in the armed forces of France, Britain, and Russia.
In this way Germany’s position became even worse than before. The danger to the Reich was so great that Adolf Hitler felt himself compelled to act. On March 16, 1935, he reintroduced conscription. But in direct connection with this measure he once more announced an offer of wide-ranging agreements, the purpose of which as to ensure that any future war would be conducted on humane principles, in fact to make any such war practically impossible by eliminating destructive armaments. In his speech of May 21, 1935, he declared:
“The German government is ready to take an active part in all efforts which may lead to a practical limitation of armaments. It regards a return to the principles of the Geneva Red Cross Convention as the only possible way to achieve this. It believes that at first there will be only the possibility of a step-by-step abolition and outlawing of weapons and methods of warfare that are essentially contrary to the still-valid Geneva Red Cross Convention.
“Just as the use of dum-dum [expanding] bullets was once forbidden and, on the whole, thereby prevented in practice, so the use of other specific weapons can be forbidden and their use, in practice, can be eliminated. Here the German government has in mind all those armaments that bring death and destruction not so much to the fighting soldiers as to non-combatant women and children.
“The German government considers as erroneous and ineffective the idea of doing away with airplanes while leaving open the question of bombing. But it believes it possible to ban the use of certain weapons as contrary to international law, and to ostracize those nations which still use them from the community of humankind, and from its rights and laws.
“It also believes that gradual progress is the best way to success. For example, there might be prohibition of the use of gas, incendiary and explosive bombs outside the actual battle zone. This limitation could then be extended to complete international outlawing of all bombing. But so long as bombing as such is permitted, any limitation of the number of aerial bombers is dubious in view of the possibility of rapid replacement.
“Should bombing as such be branded as barbaric and contrary to international law, the construction of aerial bombing planes will soon be abandoned as superfluous and pointless. If, through the Geneva Red Cross Convention, it proved possible to prevent the killing of defenseless wounded men or of prisoners, it ought to be equally possible, through an analogous convention, to forbid and ultimately to bring to an end the bombing of similarly defenseless civilian populations.
“In such a fundamental way of dealing with the problem, Germany sees a greater reassurance and security for the nations than in all the pacts of assistance and military agreements.
“The German government is ready to agree to any limitation that leads to abolition of the heaviest arms, especially suited for aggression. Such weapons are, first, the heaviest artillery, and secondly, the heaviest tanks. In view of the enormous fortifications on the French frontier, such an international abolition of the heaviest weapons of attack would automatically give France nearly one hundred percent security.
“Germany declares herself ready to agree to any limitation whatsoever of the caliber-size of artillery, as well as battleships, cruisers, and torpedo boats. In like manner the German government is ready to accept any international limitation of the size of warships. And finally it is ready to agree to limitation of tonnage for submarines, or to their complete abolition through an international agreement.
“And it gives further assurance that it will agree to any international limitations or abolition of arms whatsoever for a uniform period of time.”
Once again Hitler’s declarations did not receive the slightest response.
On the contrary, France made an alliance with Russia in order to further increase her predominance on the continent, and to enormously increase the pressure on Germany from the East.
In view of the evident destructive intentions of his adversaries, Adolf Hitler was therefore obliged to take new measures for the security of the German Reich. On March 3, 1936, he occupied the Rhineland, which had been without military protection since [the] Versailles [settlement of 1919], and thus shut the wide gate through which the Western neighbor could carry out an invasion. Once again he followed the defensive step which he had been obliged to take with a generous appeal for general reconciliation and for the settlement of all differences. On March 31, 1936, he formulated the following peace plan:
1 . In order to give to future agreements securing the peace of Europe the character of inviolable treaties, those nations participating in the negotiations do so only on an entirely equal footing and as equally esteemed members. The sole compelling reason for signing these treaties can only lie in the generally recognized and obvious usefulness of these agreements for the peace of Europe, and thus for the social happiness and economic prosperity of the nations.
2. In order to shorten, in the economic interest of the European nations, the period of uncertainty, the German government proposes a limit of four months for the first period up to the signing of the pacts of non-aggression guaranteeing the peace of Europe.
3. The German government gives the assurance not to add any reinforcements whatsoever to the troops in the Rhineland during this period, always provided that the Belgian and French governments act in the same way.
4. The German government gives the assurance not to move during this period closer to the Belgian and French frontiers the troops at present stationed in the Rhineland.
5. The German government proposes the setting up of a commission composed of the two guarantor Powers, Britain and Italy, and a disinterested third neutral power, to guarantee this assurance to be given by both parties.
6. Germany, Belgium, and France are each entitled to send a representative to this Commission. If Germany, France, or Belgium think that for any particular reason they can point to a change in the military situation having taken place within this period of four months, they have the right to inform the Guarantee Commission of their observations.
7. Germany, Belgium, and France declare their willingness in such a case to permit this Commission to make the necessary investigations through the British and Italian military attaches, and to report thereon to the participating powers.
8. Germany, Belgium and France give the assurance that they will give the fullest consideration to the objections arising therefrom.
9. Moreover the German government is willing on a basis of complete reciprocity with Germany’s two western neighbors to agree to any military limitations on the German western frontier.
10. Germany, Belgium, and France and the two guarantor powers agree to enter into negotiations under the leadership of the British government at once or, at the latest, after the French elections, for the conclusion of a 25-year non-aggression or security pact between France and Belgium on the one hand, and Germany on the other.
11 . Germany agrees that Britain and Italy shall sign this security pact as guarantor powers once more.
12. Should special engagements to render military assistance arise as a result of these security agreements, Germany on her part declares her willingness to enter into such engagements.
13. The German government hereby repeats its proposal for the conclusion of an air- pact to supplement and strengthen these security agreements.
14. The German government repeats that should the Netherlands so desire, it is willing to also include that country in this West European security agreement.
15. In order to give this peace-pact, voluntarily entered into between Germany and France, the character of a conciliatory agreement ending a centuries-old quarrel, Germany and France pledge themselves to take steps to see that in the education of the young, as well as in the press and publications of both nations, everything shall be avoided that might be calculated to poison relations between the two peoples, whether it be a derogatory or contemptuous attitude, or improper interference in the internal affairs of the other country. They agree to set up at the headquarters of the League of Nations at Geneva, a joint commission whose function it shall be to lay before the two governments all complaints received, for information and investigation.
16. In keeping with their intention to give this agreement the character of a sacred pledge, Germany and France undertake to ratify it through a plebiscite of the two nations.
17. Germany expresses her willingness, on her part, to contact the states on her south-eastern and north-eastern frontiers, to invite them directly to the final formal signing of the proposed non-aggression pacts.
18. Germany expresses her willingness to re-enter the League of Nations, either at once, or after the conclusion of these agreements. At the same time, the German government once again expresses as its expectation that, after a reasonable time and through friendly negotiations, the issue of colonial equality of rights, as well as the issue of the separation of the Covenant of the League of Nations from its foundation in the Versailles Treaty, will be cleared up.
19. Germany proposes the setting up of an International Court of Arbitration, which shall be responsible for the observance of the various agreements and whose decisions shall be binding on all parties.
After the conclusion of this great work of securing European peace, the German government considers it urgently necessary to endeavor by practical measures to put a stop to the unlimited competition in armaments. In her opinion this would mean not merely an improvement in the financial and economic conditions of the nations, but above all a lessening of psychological tension.
The German government, however, has no faith in the attempt to bring about universal settlements, as this would be doomed to failure from the outset, and can therefore be proposed only by those who have no interest in achieving practical results. On the other hand it is of the opinion that the negotiations held and the results achieved in limiting naval armaments should have an instructive and stimulating effect.
The German government therefore recommends future conferences, each of which shall have a single, clearly defined objective.
For the present, it believes the most important task is to bring aerial warfare into the moral and humane atmosphere of the protection afforded to non-combatants or the wounded by the Geneva Convention. Just as the killing of defenseless wounded, or of prisoners, or the use of dum-dum bullets, or the waging of submarine warfare without warning, have been either forbidden or regulated by international conventions, so it must be possible for civilized humanity to prevent the senseless abuse of any new type of weapon, without running counter to the object of warfare.
The German government therefore proposes that the practical tasks of these conferences shall be:
1. Prohibition of the use of gas, poison, or incendiary bombs.
2. Prohibition of the use of bombs of any kind whatsoever on towns or places outside the range of the medium-heavy artillery of the fighting fronts.
3. Prohibition of the bombardment with long-range guns of towns or places more than 20 kilometers distant from the battle zone.
4. Abolition and prohibition of the construction of tanks of the heaviest type.
5. Abolition and prohibition of artillery of the heaviest caliber.
As soon as possibilities for further limitation of armaments emerge from such discussions and agreements, they should be utilized. The German government hereby declares itself prepared to join in every such settlement, in so far as it is valid internationally.
The German government believes that if even a first step is made on the road to disarmament, this will be of enormous importance in relations between the nations, and thereby in reestablishing confidence, which is a precondition for the development of trade and prosperity.
In accordance with the general desire for the restoration of favorable economic conditions, the German government is prepared immediately after the conclusion of the political treaties to enter into an exchange of opinions on economic issues with the other nations concerned, in the spirit of the proposals made, and to do all that lies in its power to improve the economic situation in Europe, and of the world economic situation which is closely bound up with it.
The German government believes that with the peace plan proposed above it has made its contribution to the building of a new Europe on the basis of reciprocal respect and confidence between sovereign states. Various opportunities for such a pacification of Europe, for which Germany has so often in the last few years made proposals, have been neglected. May this attempt to achieve European understanding succeed at last. The German government confidently believes that it has opened the way in this direction by submitting the above peace plan.”
Anyone who today reads this comprehensive peace plan will realize in what direction the development of Europe, according to the wishes of Adolf Hitler, should really have proceeded. Here was the possibility of truly constructive work. This could have been a real turning-point for the benefit of all nations. But once more he who alone called for peace was not heard. Only Britain replied with a rather scornful questionnaire that avoided any serious consideration of the essential points involved.
Incidentally, however, Britain revealed her actual intentions by setting herself up as the protector of France and by instituting and commencing regular general staff military consultations with the French Republic just as in the period before the [first] World War.
There could no longer be any doubt now that the western powers were following the old path toward an armed conflict, and were steadily preparing a new blow against Germany, even though Adolf Hitler’s thoughts and endeavors were entirely directed towards proving to them that he wanted to remain on the best possible terms with them. Over the years he had undertaken numerous steps in this direction, of which a few more will be mentioned here. With Britain he negotiated the Naval Agreement of June 18, 1935, which provided that the German Navy could have a strength of 35 percent of that of the British Navy. By this he wanted to demonstrate that the German Reich, to use his own words, had “neither the intention, the means, nor the necessity” to enter into any rivalry as regards naval power, which, as is well known, had had such a fateful impact on its relations with Britain in the years before the [first] World War.
On every appropriate occasion he assured France of his desire to live at peace with her. He repeatedly renounced in plain terms any claim to [the region of] Alsace-Lorraine. On the occasion of the return to the German Reich of the Saar territory as a result of plebiscite by its people, he declared on March 1, 1935:
“It is our hope that through this act of just compensation, in which we see a return to natural reason, relations between Germany and France have permanently improved. Therefore, just as we desire peace, we must hope that our great neighbor is ready and willing to seek peace with us. It must be possible for two great peoples to join together and collaborate in opposing the difficulties that threaten to overwhelm Europe.”
He even endeavored to arrive at a better understanding with Poland, the eastern ally of the western powers, although that country in 1919 had unlawfully incorporated millions of Germans, and had ever since subjected them to the worst oppression. On January 26, 1934, he concluded a non-aggression pact with her in which the two governments agreed “to settle directly all questions of whatever sort that concern their mutual relations.”
Thus on all sides he countered the enemy plans with his determination to preserve peace, and in this way strove to protect Germany. When however he saw that London and Paris were arming for an attack, he was once more obliged to undertake fresh measures of defense. The enemy camp, as we have seen above, had been enormously extended through the alliance between France and Russia. In addition to this the two powers had secured an alliance line to the south of the German Reich through Czechoslovakia, which, already allied with France, then concluded a treaty with Russia, thereby making her a bridge between east and west.
Moreover, Czechoslovakia controlled the high-lying region of Bohemia and Moravia, which Bismarck had called the citadel of Europe, and this citadel projected far into German territory. The threat to Germany thus assumed truly overwhelming form.
Adolf Hitler found an ingenious way of countering this danger. The conditions in German Austria, which under the terror of the Schuschnigg government were tending towards civil war, offered him the opportunity of stepping in to save the situation, and to lead back into the Reich the sister nation to the south-east that had been sentenced by the victorious powers to lead the life of a hopelessly decaying “Free State.” After he had thus established himself near the line of connection between France and Russia mentioned above, a process of dissolution began in the ethnically mixed state of Czechoslovakia, which had been artificially put together from the most diverse national elements. Then, after the liberation of the [ethnically German] Sudetenland [region] and the secession of Slovakia, the Czechs themselves asked for the protection of the German Reich. With this the enemy’s “bridge” came into Hitler’s hand, while at the same time direct land connection was made established with Italy, whose friendship had been secured some time previously.
While he was gaining this strategic success for the security of his country, Adolf Hitler was again endeavoring with great eagerness to reach a peaceable understanding with the western powers. In Munich immediately after liberation of the Sudeten Germans, which was approved by Britain, France, and Italy, he made an agreement with the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, the text of which was as follows:
“We have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe.
We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement [of 1935] as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.
We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.
September 30, 1938.
Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain.”
Two months later, on Hitler’s instructions, the German Foreign Minister, von Ribbentrop, made the following agreement with France:
“Herr Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs, and M. Georges Bonnet, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, acting in the name and by order of their governments, have at their meeting in Paris, on December 6, 1938, agreed as follows:
1. The German government and the French government fully share the conviction that peaceful and good-neighborly relations between Germany and France constitute one of the most essential elements for the consolidation of the situation in Europe and the maintenance of general peace. The two governments will in consequence use all their efforts to ensure the development in this direction of the relations between their countries.
2. The two governments recognize that between the two countries there is no territorial question outstanding, and they solemnly recognize as final the frontiers between their countries as they now exist.
3. The two governments are resolved, while leaving unaffected their particular relations with other powers, to remain in contact with regard to all questions concerning their two countries, and mutually to consult should the later evolution of those questions lead to international difficulties.
In token whereof the representatives of the two governments have signed the present Declaration, which comes into immediate effect.
Done in duplicate in the French and German languages at Paris, December 6, 1938.
Joachim von Ribbentrop,
It should have been entirely reasonable to expect that the way was clear for collaborative reconstruction in which all leading powers would participate, and that the Fuehrer’s endeavors to secure peace would at last meet with success. But the contrary was true. Scarcely had Chamberlain reached home when he called for rearmament on a considerable scale and laid plans for a new and tremendous encirclement of Germany. Britain now took over from France the leadership of this further encirclement of the Reich, to more than make up for the loss of Czechoslovakia. She opened negotiations with Russia, and concluded guarantee treaties with Poland, Romania, Greece and Turkey. These were alarm signals of the greatest urgency.
Just at this time Adolf Hitler was occupied with the task of finally eliminating sources of friction with Poland. For this purpose he made an uncommonly generous proposal by which the purely German Free City of Danzig would return to the Reich, and a narrow passage through the Polish Corridor, which since 1919 had torn asunder the north-eastern part of Germany to an unbearable extent, would be connected with the separated area. This proposal, which moreover afforded Poland the prospect of a 25-year non- aggression pact and other advantages, was nevertheless rejected in Warsaw, because there it was believed, conscious as the authorities were of forming one of the principal members of the common front set up by London against Germany, that any concession, however minor, could be refused. And that wasn’t all. With this same attitude, Poland took an aggressive stance, threatened Danzig, and prepared to take up arms against Germany.
Thus the moment was close at hand for an attack against Germany by the countries that had aligned together for that purpose. Adolf Hitler, making a final extreme effort in the interests of peace, saved what he could. On August 23rd, Ribbentrop succeeded in reaching an agreement in Moscow for a non-aggression pact with Russia. Two days later the German Fuehrer himself made a final and truly remarkable offer to Britain, declaring himself ready “to enter into agreements with Britain that … would not only, on the German side, safeguard the existence of the British Empire come what may, but if necessary would pledge German assistance for the British realm, regardless of where such assistance might be required.” At the same time he was prepared to accept a reasonable limitation of armaments, “in accordance with the new political situation and which are economically sustainable.” And finally he assured once again that he had no interest in the issues in the west, and that “a revision of the borders in the west are out of any consideration.”
The reply to this was a pact of mutual assistance signed that same day between Britain and Poland, which made the outbreak of war inevitable. Then a decision was made in Warsaw to mobilize at once against Germany, and the Poles began with violent attacks not only against Germans in Poland, who for some time had been the victims of frightful massacres, but against Reich German territory.
But even after Britain and France declared war, as they had intended, and Germany had overcome the Polish danger in the east by a glorious campaign without a parallel, even then Adolf Hitler raised his voice once more in the name of peace. He did this even though his hands were now free to act against the enemy in the west. He also did this even though in London and Paris the fight had been proclaimed against him personally, in boundless hate, as a crusade. At this moment he possessed the supreme self-control to present, in his speech of October 6, 1939, to public opinion throughout the world, a new plan for the pacification of Europe. This plan was as follows:
“By far the most important task, in my opinion, is the creation of not only a belief in, but also a feeling for European security.
1. For this it is necessary that the aims of the foreign policy of each European state should be made perfectly clear. As far as Germany is concerned, the Reich government is ready to give a thorough and exhaustive exposition of the aims of its foreign policy. In so doing, it begins by stating, first of all, that it regards the Treaty of Versailles as no longer valid – in other words, that the German Reich government, and with it the entire German nation, no longer see cause or reason for any further revision of the Treaty, apart from the demand for adequate colonial possessions justly due to the Reich, involving in the first place a return of the German colonies.
This demand for colonies is based not only on Germany’s historical claim to her colonies, but above all on her elementary right to a share of the world’s raw material resources. This demand does not take the form of an ultimatum, nor is it a demand that is backed by force, but rather a demand based on political justice and common sense economic principles.
2. The demand for a real revival of international economic life coupled with an extension of trade and commerce presupposes a reorganization of the international economic system, in other words, of production in the individual states. In order to facilitate the exchange of the goods thus produced, however, a new system of markets must be found, and a conclusive settlement of relations of the world currencies must be reached, so that the obstacles in the way of unrestricted trade can be gradually removed.
3. The most important condition, however, for a real revival of economic life in and outside of Europe is the establishment of an unconditionally guaranteed peace, and of a sense of security on the part of the various nations. This security will not only be rendered possible by the final sanctioning of the European status, but above all by the reduction of armaments to a reasonable and economically tolerable level. An essential part of this necessary sense of security, however, is a clear definition of the legitimate use and application of certain modern armaments which could, at any given moment, strike straight at the heart of every nation, which therefore create a permanent sense of insecurity. In my previous speeches in the Reichstag I made proposals with this end in view. At that time they were rejected — presumably for the simple reason that they were made by me.
I believe that a sense of national security will not return to Europe until clear and binding international agreements have provided a comprehensive definition of the extent to which the use of certain weapons is permitted or forbidden.
The Geneva Convention once succeeded in prohibiting, in civilized countries at least, the killing of wounded, the mistreatment of prisoners, war against non- combatants, and so forth. Just as it was possible gradually to achieve the universal observance of this prohibition, a way ought surely to be found to regulate aerial warfare, the use of poison gas, of submarines, and so forth, and likewise clearly to define contraband, so that war will lose its terrible character of a conflict waged against women and children and against non-combatants in general. The growing horror of certain methods of modern warfare will of its own accord lead to their abolition, and thus they will become obsolete.
In the war with Poland, I endeavored to restrict aerial warfare to objectives of military importance, or only to employ it to deal with resistance at a given point. But it must surely be possible to emulate the Red Cross in drawing up some universally valid international regulation. It is only when this is achieved that peace can reign, particularly on our densely populated continent a peace which, free of suspicion and fear, will provide the conditions for real growth and economic prosperity. I do not believe that there is any responsible statesman in Europe who does not in his heart desire prosperity for his people. But such a desire can only be realized if all the nations inhabiting this continent work together. To help bring about this collaboration must be the goal of everyone who is sincerely striving for the future of his own people.
To achieve this great goal, the leading nations on this continent will one day have to come together in order to draw up, accept and guarantee a statute on a comprehensive basis that will ensure for them a feeling of security and calm — in short, of peace.
Such a conference could not possibly be held without the most thorough preparation, that is, without clearly specifying every point at issue. It is equally impossible that such a conference, which would determine the fate of this continent for many years to come, could carry on its deliberations while cannons are thundering, or when mobilized armies are bringing pressure to bear upon it. Since, however, these problems must be solved sooner or later, it would surely be more sensible to tackle the solution before millions of men are first pointlessly sent to their death, and billions of dollars’ worth of property are destroyed.
The continuation of the present state of affairs in the west is unthinkable. Each day will soon demand increasing sacrifices. Perhaps the day will come when France will begin to bombard and demolish [the city of] Saarbrucken. The German artillery will in turn lay [the French city of] Mulhouse in ruins. France will retaliate by bombarding Karlsruhe, and Germany in her turn shell Strasbourg. Then the French artillery will fire at Freiburg, and the Germans at Colmar or Sélestat. Long-range artillery will then be set up, and from both sides destruction will strike deeper and deeper, and whatever cannot be reached by the long-range artillery will be destroyed from the air. And while all that will be very interesting for certain international journalists, and very profitable for airplane, weapons and munitions manufacturers, and so forth, it will be appalling for the victims. And this battle of destruction will not be confined to the land. No, it will reach far out over the sea. Today there are no longer any islands.
And the national wealth of Europe will be shattered by shells, and the vigor of every nation will be sapped on the battlefields. And one day there will again be a frontier between Germany and France, but instead of flourishing towns there will be ruins and endless graveyards.”
The fate of this appeal was the same as that of all the previous ones made by Adolf Hitler in the name of reason, in the interests of a true renaissance of Europe. His enemies paid him no heed. On this occasion as well no response was forthcoming from them. They rigidly adhered to the attitude they had taken up in the beginning.
In the face of this series of historical facts is there any need for further details as to the question of why they did so? They had created the Versailles system, and when it threatened to collapse they wanted war, in order to follow it with an even worse Versailles.
The reproaches they make today against Adolf Hitler and Germany, recoil one and all on those who make them, and characterize their actions.
They are the disturbers of peace. They are the ones who contemplate the forcible oppression of other peoples, and who seek to plunge Europe into devastation and disaster. If that were not so, they would long ago have taken the hand that was stretched out to them, or at least they would have made a gesture of honestly wishing to cooperate in making a new order, and thus spare the nations an excess of “blood, tears and sweat.”
World history is the world court; and in this case as always when it reaches its decision it will pronounce a just verdict.