Monday, April 13, 2015

ADSS 1.3 Cesare Orsenigo, Germany to Cardinal Maglione: report on Czechoslovakia

ADSS 1.3 Orsenigo, Germany to Maglione, Sec State.

Reference: Report 26,724 (AES 1283/39)

Location and date: Berlin, 18.03.1939

Summary statement: Details regarding the occupation of Czechoslovakia and public reaction in Germany.

Language: Italian


Further to my telegram number 316 of 15.03.1939 (1) I send the following details obtained confidentially from colleagues.

1. From many small sings, which now, in the light accomplished fact take form and gain clarity, it would be possible to say that not only the occupation of the Czech nation but also the method in which it was carried out, that is utilising German elements cleverly placed beforehand in the territory to be occupied, were planned a long time ahead.  In this light even the fact of having countermanded the transfer of the German Theological Faculty to Reichenberg (German Sudeten territory) and of keeping it instead in Prague alongside the Czech faculty, would be explained.

2. The conversation during the night between Mr Hácha (2), President of Czechoslovakia, and the Führer must have been very brief and consisted in posing the tragic dilemma: “Either the Czech nation entrusts itself into the hands of Germany or I will march into Prague.”

3. The instantaneous occupation of the airfields and of the frontiers and exit points from Bohemia seems to have been primarily for police reasons, to prevent the escape of the hated refugees, both German and Jewish, who for many years had spoken and written against the Third Reich and its Führer.

4. The Berlin diplomats, including those of the nations who had signed the Munich Treaty or were present when it was signed, were kept in the dark about every move: it is said that even the Italian Government was informed about this action only during the night of the 15th. (3) Someone, such as the Polish ambassador, had tried on Monday and Tuesday to make inquiries at the Berlin Foreign Office but without results; all high officials were reported absent on Monday and Tuesday. (4)

5. The French Ambassador (5), who called at the Foreign Ministry after the occupation expected to receive some explanation.  When he said “You have violated the spirit of the Munich Treaty” he was rebuffed with the ferocious accusation that France:
a) had started an armament race just after the signing of the Munich Treaty;
b) had given money to Czechoslovakia – of which the Germans pretended to have proofs – for purposes not consonant with the spirit of the Munich pact.

6. One of the most effective “subversive” elements at the disposal of Germany was represented by the Slovak peasants who had been working in Germany.  When these rural workers were returned to their country and saw the state of misery which it was in and for which Prague was accused of being responsible they started to extol the well-being of German people to the point that in a few months the country became completely anti-Czech and pro-German.  The Fuhrer took advantage of this psychological situation to bring pressure to bear on the unfortunate Monsignor Tiso, President of Slovakia, who had not the foresight to resign in time. (6)

7. The last step taken by the Slovak Government, that is to ask again for German protection, nay lead to a so-called “protectorate” also for Slovakia.

8. Mr Mastny, the Czechoslovakian Minister in Berlin (7), who should have left his post, has been restrained from doing so by the German government, probably to give the impression, if need be, that Prague still has a diplomatic representative in Berlin.

9. It is said that all Czechoslovak Legations abroad have been ordered to deliver their archives intact to the German diplomatic representatives in the respective capitals.  Likewise the Foreign Ministry archive in Prague was one of the first offices occupied by the German police.  It is easy to imagine the nature and number of documents now under investigating Germany eyes.

10.  The reaction of the Berlin population is varied.  The Catholic people are silence; outwardly they are in unison with the rest of the population but feel the moral guilt for the aggressive practices and violation of treaties by their own Government.  The Protestants seem less sensitive in general to moral considerations and to approve more readily of political success; let us hope that their Pastors at least are less superficial.  The young people, members of the National Socialist or not, of all denominations, are exultant at the results of this action, which they praise for having been bloodless, but they feel no sympathy for the tears and humiliation of the entire Czech population, neither do they worry about the moral issue caused by the violation of treaties.  This is the result of the nationalist fanaticism of the new generation, erected a supreme standard for the life of the peoples.

11. It has been reported that in the plan elaborated between Berlin and Slovakia a coup d’etat to take place in Slovakia on 15 March was anticipated, when this state would have immediately declared its independence from Prague.  This plan came to the knowledge of the Czechs and caused the precipitate intervention of the Central Government in Prague who immediately deposed the Slovak Government presided over by Monsignor Tiso.  Germany took immediate advantage of this action by siding openly with Slovakia, maintaining that the only constitutional government was the one under Dr Tiso.  The Prague Government, frightened by the course of events, sought salvation by appealing to Berlin for help, and this was the trap into which they fell, because even as the President of Czechoslovakia was travelling towards Berlin to ask for help, steps had been taken here for the imminent occupation of Czechoslovakia.

(1) ADSS 1.2
(2) Emil Hácha (1872-1945), President of Czechoslovakia 1938-39.
(3) The Italian Foreign Minister, Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944), claimed he was informed only on 15.03.1939 in a personal message from the Prince William of Hesse (1905-1942). (Ciano, Diaries, Volume 1, p 55).
(4) Józef Lipski (1894-1958), Polish Ambassador to Germany 1934-39.
(5) See DGFP D, IV, number 233, pp 238-39.  Note of the Secretary of State on his conversation with French Ambassador Robert Coulondre(1885-1959).
(6) Jozef Tiso (1887-1947), Catholic priest and President of Slovakia 1939-45.
(7) Vojtech Mastny (1874-1954) Czechoslovakian minister to Germany 1938-39

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