Friday, December 23, 2016

ADSS 1.252 Orsenigo to Maglione: Sumner-Welles in Berlin

ADSS 1.252 Cesare Orsenigo, Germany, to Luigi Maglione, Sec State

Reference: Report number 344, (31.309), (AES 2167/40)

Location and date: Berlin, 04.03.1940

Summary statement: Under-Secretary of State, Sumner Welles visit to Berlin.  He met several ambassadors including the Italian.  Diplomats believe that both sides underestimate each other’s strengths and must negotiate a settlement after two years at the most in order to avoid a mass slaughter.

Language: Italian


I take the liberty of adding to what was published in the newspapers about Mr Welles’s talks in Berlin, some information less known and certainly not for the public. (1)

Mr Welles, although he had notified the American Charge d’Affaires in Berlin, Mr Alexander Kirk (2), that he was coming as a private citizen, he nevertheless saw a few diplomats with whom he was personally acquainted, such as the Ambassadors of Brazil and Argentina (3), and also called on Ambassador Attolico, who unfortunately had to receive him while in bed owing to painful heart condition: his last visit lasted for more that on hour: on the last day, Sunday, Mr Welles also met the Belgian Ambassador, Viscount Davignon, and Mr Schacht.

As to the German Government, Mr Welles first of all had talks with the Minister for Foreign Affairs (7), the Secretary of State, Dr Weizsacker, Hitler, Hess, and on Sunday from 12 to 3pm with Goring.  He also had a meeting with the Dutch Minister, but I do not think that they spoke about politics. (8)

The main themes discussed by the diplomats was: “Germany makes a mistake in underestimating the Allies but in turn the Allies make an even bigger mistake underestimating German military strength, the cohesion of the people and of the army around the Fuhrer, and in hoping to overthrow them easily and to starve them.”  They begged Mr Welles to open the eyes of the Allies so that they would not blindly go into war which will result in a terrifying slaughter and a useless destruction as it will be difficult to reach a final victory: everybody will emerge very shaken or, maybe after two years of fighting peace negotiations will be started on more or less present conditions but with two or three million men killed.  The diplomats in Berlin think that, if the Allies do not completely shut all doors, Mr Roosevelt will certainly try and approach for an understanding, when he has collected all the information brought back by Mr Welles at the end of March: some, however, think that this will be too late!  It is also said that Signor Mussolini has already offered his collaboration to Mr Roosevelt for such an initiative. 

As to the various talks which Mr Welles had with members of the German Government, it seems that he was most pleased with the on he had with the Fuhrer, and least impressed with the one with M Ribbentrop who took a boastful and menacing attitude.  It seems that the gist of Mr Welles’s general impression was summed up in his sentence: “These men carry in their heart a wish for peace, but they have not the courage to speak about it lest they are judged weak or afraid.”

The diplomats who gave me the above information asked me to pass the information on to the Holy See, pointing out the gravity of the moment, that is, the serious and imminent danger of a colossal war of uncertain result,  They hope for the collaboration of the Holy See, and they noted in this respect the less controversial and more conciliatory language adopted recently by the Catholic newspapers in Holland Belgium.

The moment seems to me also very serious and I want to lighten my responsibility, and to inform you exactly about everything, although I suppose I may not be adding anything new to what you already know.

(1) Benjamin Sumner Welles (1892-1962), United States Under-Secretary of State 1937-43.  FDR asked Welles to visit Italy, Germany and the UK on a fact finding mission.  Historians are divided as to the true nature of the mission, but it seems reasonable to judge that FDR wanted first hand information on the state of the Axis, the likelihood of Italy entering the war, German intentions in general, and the situation in Britain that he was keen to support with a measure of discretion.  Hitler feared Welles’ mission was an attempt to keep Italy neutral and Ribbentrop’s sudden visit to Rome on 10.03.1940 appeared to be in response to the Fuhrer’s fears.  Ribbentrop also visited Pius XII during the same trip, on 11.03.1940. See ADSS 1.257.  Welles returned to Rome and met with the pope too.  See ADSS 1.268.
(2) Alexander Kirk (1888-1979), United States Charge d’Affaires in Germany 1940.
(3) Cyro de Freitas Valle (1896-1969), Brazilian Ambassador to Germany 1939-42); Ricardo Olivera (1886-1949), Argentinian Ambassador to Germany 1939-43.
(4) Bernardo Attolico (1880-1942), Italian Ambassador to Germany 1935-39.  Attolico was about to leave Berlin to take up his new position as Italian Ambassador to the Holy See.
(5) Jacques Henri Davignon (1887-1965), Belgian Ambassador to Germany 1935-40.
(6) Hjalmar Schacht (1877-1970), President of the Reichsbank 1933-39, Minister of Economics 1934-37, minister without portfolio 1939-43.
(7) Joachim Ribbentrop (1893-1946), German Minister for Foreign Affairs 1938-45.
(8) Not identified.

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