Sunday, April 19, 2015

ADSS 1.26 Valeri, France to Maglione: French reservations on peace proposal.

ADSS 1.26 Valerio Valeri, France to Luigi Maglione, Sec State

Reference: Report Number 8160, (AES 2497/39)

Location and date: Paris, 05.05.1939

Summary statement: French Foreign Ministry expresses reservations on papal peace proposal. Prospects of a Franco-Italian understanding.

Language: Italian


As I have already reported to your Eminence (1) this morning, I was received at about 11.00 by M. Bonnet, the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I mentioned to him, according to the instructions received, that the Holy Father had decided to send a message to the five Powers: France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Poland inviting them to meet a t conference to try to solve the outstanding problems between Germany and Poland on the one hand, Italy and France on the other and all the questions arising from them.  The aim of this message and invitation to peace was only to dispel the danger of war and to substitute a period of fruitful collaboration in place of the present disagreements.  I asked him then how the French Government would receive the Pope’s invitation.

The Minister, who had listened with great attention, replied that he understood the noble intentions of the Holy Father very well.  He added, however , that before giving me a final answer, it was necessary to examine the question with the President (1) and M. Léger, General Secretary of the Ministry (3).  Then has asked a few questions: whether the Holy Father had only intended to send the message or if he had already decided on it.  I replied that according to the instructions received the decision had already been taken.  He asked also if the Holy See had already taken the same steps with the other four interested Powers.  I replied that I did not know, but it was probable.

The Minister asked also if the Holy See thought that there was an imminent danger of war.  I replied: “A month ago the Holy See did not velieve there was this danger, but now it seems that there has been a change of opinion if the Hoy Father has taken this decision”.  M. Bonnet explained to me that M. Gafencu (4) had informed him, through the Rumanian Ambassador, M. Tatarescu (5) that your Eminence told him that the Holy See was afraid that the German Government would try a coup de main in Danzig. (6)

I replied: “Should this happen do you think that war would blow up?” 

M. Bonnet replied: “With every probability, not to say almost certainly.”

I added: “You see then, how well founded is the Holy See’s fear”.

The Minister then pointed out that he did not have news about any military preparations by Germany in the direction of Danzig, although one should keep in mind that Germany could strike quickly with its motorised units, and also, he added, that he thought that M. Beck – who was speaking at that very moment and for which the Minister was awaiting a French translation as soon as parts were ready – would keep to a very moderate tone. (7) 

He then mentioned Italy by saying that the recent news was much better and that the fullest attention should be directed towards it, according to his opinion, because Germany Italy together could do very little against the combination of the Democratic Powers, but Germany without Italy could do nothing.  Now according to the news in his possession, a strong current in Italy at present was against a union with Germany, and this not only amongst the people but also amongst some members of the Government. M. Bonnet alluded to the conversation of M. Ponçet (8) had a few days ago with M. Ciano (9) from which it would appear that Italy would ask only for a free port in Djibouti with certain rights on the railway to Addis Ababa, for the appointment of two members to the Board of Suez Canal Company and the re-establishment of the convention system for the Italians in Tunisia. (10)

The Minister concluded, “On these three points I think in principle that we could come to an understanding”.  Then he added that a peace message from the Pope could have a great influence on the Italian people, but it was possible that elsewhere it cold be interpreted as a sign of weakness amongst the Democratic Powers.

I mentioned to him that such a rumour would not be possible because the Holy Father was addressing himself not only to the Democratic Powers but also to the totalitarian ones. 

We agreed that I should return to see him this evening after 19.30.

As I was coming out Mr Phipps, the British Ambassador was coming in to see M. Bonnet.

I had only just returned home when M. Bonnet telephoned and seemed I a much more disturbed frame of mind than during our conversation; he asked me to ask your Excellency that the message should not be sent without our meeting again this evening. (12)  He also made a reference to the United States, which I countered with the observation that such powers, that is the democratic ones, already outnumbered the others by two to one (that is among those to whom the Papal message was being addressed).

(1) ADSS 1.25
(2) Albert Lebrun (1871-1950) President of France 1932-40.
(3) Alexis Léger (1887-1975), General Secretary of the French Foreign Office 1932-40.  Léger was committed to appeasement.
(4) Grigore Gafencu (1892-1957), Rumanian Foreign Minister 1938-40.
(5) Georges Tartarescu (1886-1957), Rumanian Ambassador to France 1938-39.
(6) Coup de main – French “a blow with the hand”; a swift attack that relies on speed and surprise.
(7) Jozef Beck (1894-1944), Polish Foreign Minister 1932-39. The Text of Beck’s speech follows at the end of the notes.
(8) André François Ponçet (1887-1978) French Ambassador to Italy 1938-40.
(9) Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944), Italian Foreign Minister 1936-43.
(10) Italy’s claims were a part of a broader imperial expansion campaign in Northern Africa.  See also DBFP, Series 3, Volume 5, n298, p 347.
(11) Eric Phipps (1875-1945), British Ambassador to France 1937-39.
(12) Compare the despatch from Phipps to Halifax on the latest interview at the Quai d’Orsay in DBFP, Series 3, Volume 5, n418, pp 467-68.  And ibid n570, p611: “The recent initiative of Pius XII is not altogether felicitous, but the Pope could be useful in the future, considering the fact that Poland is a Catholic country”.

Address by Jozef Beck, Polish Foreign Minister to the Polish Parliament. (Accessed 27.03.2015)

THE session of the Parliament provides me with an opportunity of filling in some gaps which have occurred in my work of recent months. The course of international events might perhaps justify more statements by a Foreign Minister than my single exposé in the Senate Commission for Foreign Affairs.

2. On the other hand it was precisely that swift development of events that prompted me to postpone a public declaration until such time as the principal problems of our foreign policy had taken on a more definite form.

3. The consequences of the weakening of collective international institutions and of a complete change in the method of intercourse between nations, which I have reported on several occasions in the Houses, caused many new problems to arise in different parts of the world. That process and its results have in recent months reached the borders of Poland.

4. A very general definition of these phenomena may be given by saying that relations between individual Powers have taken on a more individual character, with their own specific features. The general rules have been weakened. One nation simply speaks more and more directly to another.

5. As far as we are concerned, very serious events have taken place. Our contact with some Powers has become easier and more profound, while in some cases serious difficulties have arisen. Looking at things chronologically, I refer, in the first place, to our agreement with the United Kingdom, with Great Britain. After repeated diplomatic contacts, designed to define the scope and object of our future relations, we reached on the occasion of my visit to London a direct agreement based on the principle of mutual assistance in the event of a direct or indirect threat to the independence of one of our countries. The formula of the agreement is known to you from the declaration of Mr. Neville Chamberlain of the 6th April, the text of which was drafted by mutual agreement and should be regarded as a pact concluded between the two Governments. I consider it my duty to add that the form and character of the comprehensive conversations held in London give a particular value to the agreement. I should like Polish public opinion to be aware that I found on the part of British statesmen not only a profound knowledge of the general political problems of Europe, but also such an attitude towards our country as permitted me to discuss all vital problems with frankness and confidence without any reservations or doubts.

6. It was possible to establish rapidly the principles of Polish-British collaboration, first of all because we made it clear to each other that the intentions of both Governments coincide as regards fundamental European problems; certainly, neither Great Britain nor Poland have any aggressive intentions whatever, but they stand equally firmly in defence of certain basic principles of conduct in international life.

7. The parallel declarations of French political leaders confirm that it is agreed between Paris and Warsaw that the efficacy of our defence pact not only cannot be adversely affected by changes in the international situation, but, on the contrary, that this agreement should constitute one of the most essential elements in the political structure of Europe. The Polish-British Agreement has been employed by the Chancellor of the German Reich as the pretext for unilaterally declaring non-existent the agreement which the Chancellor of the Reich concluded with us in 1934.

8. Before passing to the present stage of this matter, allow me to sketch a brief historical outline.

9. The fact that I had the honour actively to participate in the conclusion and execution of that pact imposes on me the duty of analysing it. The pact of 1934 was a great event in 1934. It was an attempt to improve the course of history as between two great nations, an attempt to escape from the unwholesome atmosphere of daily discord and wider hostile intentions, to rise above the animosity which had accumulated for centuries, and to create deep foundations of mutual respect. An endeavour to oppose evil is always the best form of political activity.

10. The policy of Poland proved our respect for that principle in the most critical moments of recent times.

11. From this point of view, Gentlemen, the breaking off of that pact is not an insignificant matter. However, every treaty is worth as much as the consequences which follow it. And if the policy and conduct of the other party diverges from the principles of the pact, we have no reason for mourning its slackening or dissolution. The Polish-German Pact of 1934 was a treaty of mutual respect and good neighbourly relations, and as such it contributed a positive value to the life of our country, of Germany, and of the whole of Europe. But since there has appeared a tendency to interpret it as limiting the freedom of our policy, or as a ground for demanding from us unilateral concessions contrary to our vital interests, it has lost its real character.

12. Let us now pass to the present situation. The German Reich has taken the mere fact of the Polish-British understanding as a motive for the breaking off of the pact of 1934. Various legal objections were raised on the German side. I will take the liberty of referring jurists to the text of our reply to the German memorandum, which will be handed to-day to the German Government. I will not detain you any longer on the diplomatic form of this event, but one of its aspects has a special significance. The Reich Government, as appears from the text of the German memorandum, made its decision on the strength of press reports, without consulting the views of either the British or the Polish Government as to the character of the agreement concluded. It would not have been difficult to do so, for immediately on my return from London I expressed my readiness to receive the German Ambassador, who has hitherto not availed himself of the opportunity.

13. Why is this circumstance important? Even for the simplest understanding it is clear that neither the character nor the purpose and scope of the agreement influenced this decision, but merely the fact that such an agreement had been concluded. And this in turn is important for an appreciation of the objects of German policy, since if, contrary to previous declarations, the Government of the Reich interpreted the Polish-German declaration of non-aggression of 1934 as intended to isolate Poland and to prevent the normal friendly collaboration of our country with Western Powers, we ourselves should always have rejected such an interpretation.

14. To make a proper estimate of the situation, we should first of all ask the question, what is the real object of all this? Without that question and our reply, we cannot properly appreciate the character of German statements with regard to matters of concern to Poland. I have already referred to our attitude towards the West. There remains the question of the German proposals as to the future of the Free City of Danzig, the communication of the Reich with East Prussia through our province of Pomorze, and the further subjects raised as of common interest to Poland and Germany.

15. Let us, therefore, investigate these problems in turn.

16. As to Danzig, first some general remarks. The Free City of Danzig was not invented by the Treaty of Versailles. It has existed for many centuries as the result-to speak accurately, and rejecting the emotional factor-of the positive interplay of Polish and German interests. The German merchants of Danzig ensured the development and prosperity of that city, thanks to the overseas trade of Poland. Not only the development, but the very raison d'être of the city has been due to the formerly decisive fact of its situation at the mouth of our only great river, and to-day to its position on the main waterway and railway line connecting us with the Baltic. This is a truth which no new formulae can obliterate. The population of Danzig is to-day predominantly German, but its livelihood and prosperity depend on the economic potential of Poland.

17. What conclusions have we drawn from this fact? We have stood and stand firmly on the ground of the rights and interests of our sea-borne trade and our maritime policy in Danzig. While seeking reasonable and conciliatory solutions, we have purposely not endeavoured to exert any pressure on the free national, ideological and cultural development of the German majority in the Free City.

18. I shall not prolong this speech by quoting examples. They are sufficiently well-known to all who have been in any way concerned with the question. But when, after repeated statements by German statesmen, who had respected our standpoint and expressed the view that "this provincial town will not be the object of a conflict between Poland and Germany," I hear a demand for the annexation of Danzig to the Reich, when I receive no reply to our proposal of the 26th March for a joint guarantee of the existence and rights of the Free City, and subsequently I learn that this has been regarded as a rejection of negotiations-I have to ask myself, what is the real object of all this?

19. Is it the freedom of the German population of Danzig, which is not threatened, or a matter of prestige-or is it a matter of barring Poland from the Baltic, from which: Poland will not allow herself to be barred?

20. The same considerations apply to communication across our province of Pomorze. I insist on the term "province of Pomorze." The word "corridor" is an artificial invention, for this is an ancient Polish territory with an insignificant percentage of German colonists.

21. We have given the German Reich all railway facilities, we have allowed its citizens to travel without customs or passport formalities from the Reich to East Prussia. We have suggested the extension of similar facilities to road traffic.

22. And here again the question arises-what is the real object of it all?

23. We have no interest in obstructing German citizens in their communication with their eastern province. But we have, on the other hand, no reason whatever to restrict our sovereignty on our own territory.

24. On the first and second points, i.e., the question of the future of Danzig and of communication across Pomorze, it is still a matter of unilateral concessions which the Government of the Reich appear to be demanding from us. A self-respecting nation does not make unilateral concessions. Where, then, is the reciprocity? It appears somewhat vague in the German proposals. The Chancellor of the Reich mentioned in his speech a triple condominium in Slovakia. I am obliged to state that I heard this proposal for the first time in the Chancellor's speech of the 28th April. In certain previous conversations allusions were merely made to the effect that in the event of a general agreement the question of Slovakia could be discussed. We did not attempt to go further with such conversations, since it is not our custom to bargain with the interests of others. Similarly, the proposal for a prolongation of the pact of non-aggression for twenty-five years was also not advanced in any concrete form in any of the recent conversations. Here also unofficial hints were made, emanating, it is true, from prominent representatives of the Reich Government. But in such conversations various other hints were made which extended much further than the subjects under discussion. I reserve the right to return to this matter if necessary.

25. In his speech the Chancellor of the Reich proposes, as a concession on his part, the recognition and definite acceptance of the present frontier between Poland and Germany. I must point out that this would have been a question of recognising what is de jure and de facto our indisputable property. Consequently, this proposal likewise cannot affect my contention that the German desiderata regarding Danzig and a motor road constitute unilateral demands.

26. In the light of these explanations, the House will rightly expect from me an answer to the last passage of the German memorandum, which says: "Should the Polish Government attach importance to a new settlement of Polish-German relations by means of a treaty, the German Government are prepared to do this." It appears to me that I have already made clear our attitude, but for the sake of order I will make a resume.

27. The motive for concluding such an agreement would be the word "peace," which the Chancellor emphasised in his speech.

28. Peace is certainly the object of the difficult and intensive work of Polish diplomacy. Two conditions are necessary for this word to be of real value: (1) peaceful intentions, (2) peaceful methods of procedure. If the Government of the Reich is really guided by those two pre-conditions in relation to this country, then all conversations, provided, of course, that they respect the principles I have already enumerated, are possible.

29. If such conversations took place, the Polish Government will, according to their custom, approach the problem objectively, having regard to the experience of recent times, but without withholding their utmost goodwill.

30. Peace is a valuable and desirable thing. Our generation, which has shed its blood in several wars, surely deserves a period of peace. But peace, like almost everything in this world, has its price, high but definable. We in Poland do not recognize the conception of "peace at any price." There is only one thing in the life of men, nations and States which is without price, and that is honour. 

Source: Yale Law School Avalon Project

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