Tuesday, July 7, 2015

ADSS 1.59 Valeri to Maglione: discussion in Paris

ADSS 1.59 Valerio Valeri, France, to Luigi Maglione, Sec State.

Reference: Report 8415 (AES 3759/39)

Location and date: Paris, 10.06.1939

Summary statement: Meeting with Secretary Alexis Léger, who rejected the idea of the papal peace conference; pre-Munich borders of Czechoslovakia must be restored. For. Minister Bonnet has more moderate ideas; King Zog of Albania and Prime Minister Edward Benes appeal to the League of Nations.

Language: Italian


During the luncheon given yesterday at the nunciature here in honour of Cardinal Villeneuve (1), I had the opportunity of talking with M. Léger, Secretary General at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, whom your Eminence knows very well.

The conversation soon veered towards the present political situation and M. Léger made some statements on this subject that I think useful to report to your Eminence.

Substantially he is against any conference, meeting or even contact with the totalitarian powers.  According to him this would immediately give an impression of weakness and would diminish that moral, financial and military armour which France and Great Britain have been able to build up in their countries and which is becoming more formidable all the time.

“For this reason”, he said at a certain moment, “I think that the Holy See’s action should be carried out in a higher sphere without going into practical details.  I am sorry, in fact, that my Minister (that is M. Bonnet) (3) did not give your Excellency a more prompt reply to eliminate immediately any shadow of uncertainty when you made that approach.”

I replied that, no matter how one judged it, that approach was made very discreetly and it was not the Holy See who gave it publicity.

M. Léger added at this point that the internal situation in Germany is worsening all the time and even from the physical point of view a badly fed and sickly generation is coming up.  According to his opinion, should war break out, Germany would not go beyond general mobilisation.  He was completely sure, he said.  The German people are kept from rebelling only by the fear of the Reichswehr. (4)

“I do not think”, I observed, “that one should too easily believe in such eventualities.  About Fascism in Italy, it was said for a ling time that it would only last a few months …”

“But we do not wish the fall of Fascism in Italy”, replied M. Léger.  I was on the point of asking what was the French Government’s point of view regarding Italy when Cardinal Villeneuve got up and all started to retire.

M. Léger never spoke about Italy while he spoke all the time about Germany.  I had therefore mentioned it.  I think however, keeping in mind a conversation I had some time ago with M. Titulescu, (5), a friend of M. Léger, that Germany and Italy are now considered to be in the same boat and some people were rather inclined to make Italy, more than Germany, pay for the consequences of the present state of affairs.  It is true that at that moment they were trying to see the bear’s skin before they killed it.

In any case, the essential point, as I mentioned before, is this: no conference, at least – M. Léger in fact was specific about this – until; things had returned to the state they were before, which means the complete re-establishment of the Czechoslovakian nation.  Moreover, M. Léger mentioned also the Sudeten.

He did not make any reference to Albania, but as I just said, I believe that he would consider this situation on the same level.

On the other hand, I have been told that at the last Geneva session two appears were accepted, one from M. Benes, the other from King Zog, but were not published because M. Avenol had raised a forma objection against the one presented M. Benes. (6) In fact, at the moment of the declaration of protectorate over Tchechia [sic] M. Benes had no more authority. (7)

In the light of the opinions reported above to your Eminence one is led to ask oneself if the latest statements of Lord Halifax and Mr Chamberlain are only, as the totalitarian states pretend, a diplomatic manoeuvre. (8)

It is true that M. Léger represents the extreme current in the Quai d’Orsay – M. Bonnet is more inclined towards moderate solutions – but of course M. Léger is very powerful and I think also that his ideas, on the international level, are in line with those of M. Daladier. (9)

PS: Today’s papers, the 11th June, announce that the Secretary General of the League of Nations has decided to publish M. Benes’ appeal mentioned above.

(1) Rodrigue Villeneuve (1883-1947), Cardinal Archbishop of Quebec 1931-47, had been sent to France as the papal legate for ceremonies in honour of St Joan of Arc in Domrémy organised by the Compagnons de Jeanne d’Arc.
(2) Alexis Leger (1887-1975), Secretary General of the French Foreign Ministry 1932-40.
(3) Georges Bonnet (1889-1957), French Foreign Minister 1938-39.
(4) While it may have been a misquote on the part of the Nuncio, the term Reichswehr had not been used in Germany since 1935 when the military was re-organised as the Wehrmacht.
(5) Nicolae Titulescu (1882-1941), a Romanian diplomat and former President of the General Assembly of the League of Nations 1930-32.  He was exiled from Romania in 1936 and spent the rest of his life in France.
(6) Edward Benes (1884-1948), Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia 1935-38, and in Prime Minister of the Government in Exile in Britain 1940-48; Zog I (1895-1961), President of Albania 1925-28, King 1928-39; Joseph Louis Avenol (1879-1952) Secretary General of the League of Nations 1933-40.  Avenol was keen to see Germany, Italy and Japan return to the League and censored criticism of them in the League Assembly.
(7) Reference to the creation of the German “protectorate” of Bohemia and Moravia in the wake of the final dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.
(8) Edward Wood, Viscount Halifax (1881-1959), UK Foreign Minister 1938-40; Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), British Prime Minister 1937-40.

(9) Eduard Daladier (1884-1970), French Prime Minister 1938-40.

Alexis Léger 1887-1975

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