Sunday, August 28, 2016

ADSS 1.186 Orsenigo to Maglione: the view from Germany

ADSS 1.186 Cesare Orsenigo, Germany, to Luigi Maglione, Sec State

Reference: Report Number 131 (28.447), (AES 6268/39)

Location and date: Berlin, 04.09.1939

Summary statement: Germany has tried to apply to Poland the same methods used with Czechoslovakia, trying to make her capitulate through negotiations.  Italy also attempts a last move in favour of peace and will not go to war.

Language: Italian


It is my duty to acquaint Your Eminence how the negotiations between Germany and Poland have taken place, according to information gathered by the Diplomatic Corps on the spot.

The fact of having dealt all the time through Great Britain, and never directly with Poland, has cause uncertain communications of which the Germans took advantage with great skill.

It seems that the German plan was identical with the one already used with Austria and in the case of the Sudetenland and Prague:  to terrorise everybody to the point that it is almost a duty of conscience  … to give in, in order to not to provoke a catastrophe!  Poland had seen the trick very clearly and with great pride decided not to be taken in at any price: in this way many explain her resolve to avoid any attempt at direct negotiations.  The German plan to have a negotiator in Berlin, and then … to move triumphantly into Danzig and along the Corridor the next day, could not be carried out: this resistance which offended, indeed increased, German arrogance, forced the two Berliners (Hitler and Ribbentrop) to lose their nerve when they were already dictating – with conquerors’ airs – harsh conditions on a Polish nation not yet vanquished!  The Polish negotiator, invited to appear in Berlin within 24 hours, and who after 48 hours, was not present nor announced, gave the pretext that this was an offence to the great German nation.  Some diplomats asked themselves this question: “Why did Germany, who was the claiming nation, not send her own negotiator to Warsaw, at least to hear at what price the desired transfer could be negotiated?”
Other diplomats suggested that – in view of the tremendous disaster – Poland could have appointed a very able negotiator with strict instructions and then send him at least up to the border.

With the failure of this old and now worn-out plan of bloodless conquest through panic and terrorism, Germany decided to resort to violence.

The attach motivated by the bad treatment of German minorities, which had been planned for 26 August, and which only the Italian hesitancy had delayed, was decided on for 1 September, on the pretext this time that Poland had not obeyed the German order to send a negotiator.  To cover up this move and to give a lead to the country’s internal opinion, a so-called project of negotiations was prepared.  As the plan was meant to be discarded, it was composed in mild tones and was communicated to the British Ambassador, that is, Ribbentrop read it to him Wednesday night, but a written copy was refused, although requested. (1)

The report of the existence of such a plan arrived in London on Thursday morning, but not the text; the same information must have been sent to Warsaw, but not the text which never left Ribbentrop’s hands: the phrase of the German communiqué, namely, that “the plan for the discussion was communicated to the British Minister” must be understood in the above sense, and the phrase used also by some Catholic newspapers: “Hitler’s proposals were rejected by Britain and Poland” is equivocal, to say the least: the request for a negotiator was dropped by Poland, but no other concrete request was rejected, especially as none was made.  Thursday evening, at 21.00hrs, the radio stations broadcast the sixteen points prepared – so it was said then – for the discussion with the negotiator, but the listeners were given to understand that they were now superseded; the broadcast was only intended to create the myth of German magnanimity personified by the German Führer.

It has come to my attention that yesterday – under the auspices of Italy – a new attempt in favour of peace has taken place under this formula: “Suspension of hostilities, everybody remaining at their positions and an international conference”. (2)

A long discussion between the Ambassadors and Hitler took place: France was agreeable, Hitler accepted, but Britain refused.  By now the die was cast and Chamberlain had said that the fight was not against the German people but against Nazism.

The diplomats feel they have done everything possible to avoid this enormous disaster but they now remark that perhaps Providence had other plans.  Italy has worked with all energy possible and it seems now that she will not dare to enter the war, knowing that she has got thousands of miles of frontier, completely exposed to the guns of the British, French and Greek fleets.  This news about the last attempts in favour of peace is still secret here.

(1) Neville Henderson, (1882-1942), UK Ambassador to Germany 1937-39, recounted the meeting with Ribbentrop: “He produced a document of a certain length which he read to me in German, or more exactly he poured out as quickly as possible, in a tone of extreme exasperation. Of the sixteen articles which composed it I could grasp the sense of five or six”. Two Years with Hitler, p289.  Henderson asked for a copy of the document in order to study it.  Ribbentrop “categorically refused, threw the paper on the table with a disdainful gesture that it was now superseded, as no Polish emissary had arrived in Berlin by midnight”.  See too DBFP, Series 3, Volume 7, n715.

(2) On 02.09.1939 at 10.00hrs Bernardo Attolico (1880-1942), Italian Ambassador to Germany (1935-39) sent a note to the German Foreign Office proposing, once more, the idea for a conference. (DDI, Series 8, Volume 13, n571.)  Hitler did not reject the proposal immediately. (DDI, ibid, n581; DBFP, Series 3, Volume 7, nn 709, 710)

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