WORLD FUTURE FUND
A REPORT FROM CARL J. BURCKHARDT, HIGH COMMISSIONER OF THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS,
ON HIS MEETING WITH ADOLF HITLER ON AUGUST 11, 1939
A very revealing insight into Hitler's world view during a special meeting
The text below is the only English translation of this meeting on the web. We have created it because this meeting shows in remarkable detail and frankness Hitler's fundamental geopolitical views. Even while he was negotiating a pact with Russia, Hitler displayed total frustration at having failed to reach a non-aggression pact with England, as well as his determination to go through with his original plan, the conquest of European Russia. As Hitler stated during this meeting:
"Everything I undertake is directed against Russia. If the West is too stupid and too blind to comprehend this, I will be forced to reach an understanding with the Russians, turn and strike the West, and then after their defeat turn back against the Soviet Union with my collected strength. I need the Ukraine and with that no one can starve us out as they did in the last war."
Carl Burckhardt was at the time the High Commissioner of the League of Nations for Danzig, a German city separated from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, and a source of serious conflict between Poland and Germany. Also present at this meeting was Albert Foerster, the Nazi Gauleiter of Danzig.
Following his talk with Hitler, Burckhardt traveled to his home in Basel, Switzerland to meet with representatives from England (Roger Makins) and France (Pierre Arnal) and to convey Hitler's message.
For further information and documents pertaining to Hitler's geopolitical plans see:
Bold print is ours, not the original, to highlight certain relevant passages. Terms, phrases, names, etc. in square brackets "[ ]" are included to provide information on the subjects about which Hitler is speaking. They are not part of the original translation. Words, phrases, etc. in parentheses "( )" are either 1) indications of Hitler's tone and mood, as provided by Burckhardt, or 2) additions intended to provide contextual information or original German terms. Lastly, in certain places we have indicated by using a "Note" that we have interjected explanatory statements. These excerpts come from the German text in Carl J. Burckhardt, Meine Danziger Mission 1937-1939 (München: Verlag Georg D.W. Callwey, 1980), pp. 339-346. The editorial arrangement of matters is a bit confused in the book since Burckhardt combines a report he gave to the English and the French immediately after the meeting with further details that he added when he published his official memoirs years later.
ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF BURCKHARDT'S REPORT
"We landed in Salzburg, stopped briefly to eat, and then took a car to the Obersalzberg. Perched on the great height of the 'Berghof', up the spiraling roadway, past the so-called 'Tea House,' sat the 'Eagle's Nest' of the leader of all the Germans.
Here is a confirmed report that I made in Basel, [Switzerland] on August 13, 1939 to the representatives of Lord Halifax and Minister Georges Bonnet - Roger Makins and Minister Pierre Arnal - about the visit and conversation that I had with the Dictator."
Beginning of the Conversation
Hitler: "I hope you had a comfortable flight. My Condor aircraft is not as fast as the Douglas, but it is more solid and useful as a military aircraft. It holds up better against gunfire. You have had a stressful week. I know that you have done your best to find a peaceful solution (Hitler's friendly expression changed here into a menacing mask) but that all of your work has been ruined by the Poles. I have suggested to [Albert] Forster that he work through the representatives of the League of Nations (Völkerbund). I do not prefer this approach, but I must be extra sure that the League of Nations is handled correctly as concerns the Saar and Danzig Questions (i.e., Hitler was referring to plebiscites here). I stress that Forster has proceeded according to my instructions because I know that this organization is objective. Despite economic repression and threats, Forster has not acted excessively. The Poles, however, who are still members of the League of Nations, I believe, have not made any effort. Last Friday (the day the Polish ultimatum arrived), I would have been satisfied with a telephone call from them. The Poles knew that talks were possible. They did not have to send a note (i.e., formal document)."
Burckhardt: "Then the negotiations have broken down over some details."
Hitler (looking annoyed): "This is unfortunate at such a serious moment. Two days before matter came to a head, Chodacki received instructions from Beck to take steps to bring matters under control. He made a grave telephone call. During which, [Arthur] Greiser has told me, that certain measures were to be taken against [German] border officials; Beck broadcast all of this to the press. (Hitler then became furious) The press said that I had lost the war of nerves, that threats were the correct way to deal with me, that we had given way, because the Poles had stood firm; that I had been only bluffing the year before, and that Polish courage, which the Czechs didn't possess, had called my bluff. I have seen idiotic statements in the French press that I have lost my nerve, but that the Poles have retained theirs (Hitler became so bitter that for a few moments he was unable to speak)."
Burckhardt: "You give these journalists too much credit, if you take their comments so seriously. A Reich Chancellor should stand above such trifles."
Hitler: "I cannot do that. Because of my origin as someone who rose from the working class, because of the way I rose [to power] and because of my character, I cannot see these things in another light. These statesmen must understand this and reckon with it, if they wish to avoid a catastrophe. It is not true that the British government has no influence over the press. The press is silent when the government wishes it. (Hitler's voice rose to a crescendo) The State Secretary will summon the Polish ambassador and say to him 'the hour has come.' That is the answer to ultimatums and to the lost war of nerves. If the slightest incident occurs, I will smash the Poles so completely that not a single trace of Poland will be found afterwards. Like a lightning bolt I will strike with the full power of my mechanized army, the power of which the Poles have no idea. Mark my words."
Burckhardt: "I understand but I also know that this will lead to a general conflict."
Hitler: "Then that is how it shall be. If I must lead Germany into war then I would rather do it today than tomorrow. I will not lead it the way Wilhelm II did; he let pangs of conscience keep him from throwing in his armed forces completely. I will fight to the very last. (Hitler paused) I once said to Lloyd George: 'If you were a private in the last war and I was a Minister, you (i.e., England), would be in a different position today than you are.' Italy (here I had the impression of some doubts on Hitler's part), will fight on my side, no matter what happens. (Here Hitler hesitated) Japan too. Thanks to my fortifications, I can hold in the west with 74 divisions. The rest will be thrown against Poland, which will be liquidated in three weeks. Switzerland has nothing to fear. I will respect their neutrality. How can they (i.e., the English) attack me? Via the air? People try to impress me with numbers and demonstrations of armaments, particularly aerial armaments. (Hitler laughed hysterically) I laugh because I am the specialist in armaments, not the others. Their air force! England has 135,000 men, France 75,000. I have 600,000 in peacetime and 1,000,000 in wartime. My flak is the best in the world, as I demonstrated in Spain. The Russians, and we know them better than do most other people; hundreds of our officers have trained in Russia, have no offensive strength and will not haul the chestnuts of others out of the fire. A nation does not murder its officers if it plans to wage a war. We defeated the Russians in Spain. The Japanese have also defeated them. (Hitler states scornfully) One cannot give us goose pimples by talking about the Russians. (Hitler now states calmly) All of this talk of war is stupidity and it makes people crazy."
"What then is the question? Only that we need grain and timber. For the grain I need space in the east; for the timber I need a colony, only one [colony]. We can survive. Our harvests in 1938 and in this year were excellent. We can survive, in spite of the triumphant cries of others that we will starve. We have achieved these harvests thanks to the persistence of our people and above all due to the use of chemical fertilizers. However, one day the soil will have had enough ... What then? I cannot stand by and let my people starve. Am I not better off then in putting two million men on the battlefield, than in losing them to starvation? Perhaps there are still among the apostles of humanity (i.e., those who seek peace at any cost), those who remember 1919. I do not want to repeat that. I will not repeat that. Free trade, open borders, that is all practical, we had these things. However when everything depends upon those masters of the seas (i.e., the English), when we can be brought low by a blockade, then it is my duty to create a situation whereby by my people can live off of their own fat. That is the only question, the rest is insanity."
"I do not harbor any romantic aims. I have no wish to rule. Above all I want nothing from the West; nothing today and nothing tomorrow. I desire nothing from the thickly settled regions of the world ... All of the notions that are ascribed to me by other people are inventions. However, I must have a free hand in the east. To repeat: it is a question of grain and timber, which I can find only outside of Europe."
Burckhardt: "I came here because of Danzig. I am not inclined to discuss other matters. A new war will usher in the end of civilization. That is a great responsibility [to bear] for the future. It is better to live in honor than to take such a responsibility upon oneself. The stronger one is, the longer he can be patient. The more honor a man has, the more attacks he can fend off. Someone once said to me that Germany's strength lies in being patient when it comes to the Polish and Danzig Questions."
Hitler (in a serious tone): "That is very important. (Turning to Forster) We must mention this to Ribbentrop."
Burckhardt: "I am fully convinced that this problem can be solved via negotiations and that the Western Powers are prepared to talk."
Hitler (in a serious tone): "Why then do they incite the Poles to boast about their ultimatums and to send ultimatums to us!"
Burckhardt (speaking pointedly): "This is not worth discussing. London and Paris exercise a moderating influence in Warsaw. The Danzig Question is very simple. It is a matter of a complex of international laws that can no longer be violated through one-sided pressure, through force, or through the threat of force."
Hitler (slamming his fist on the table): "Talks! But on what basis? Do you remember the disarmament talks? I made a generous offer to the Poles. In March I wanted, after I removed the threat of war with Czechoslovakia from my southeast flank, to put out two burning issues: Memel and Danzig. Every time I took a step, and this is borne out by history, I found England and France in my path. What then can I do?"
Burckhardt: "Prior to March 15th your argument was about the [German] people. It corresponded to certain natural laws that standing international agreements stood in defiance of. There were people who sympathized with these arguments."
Hitler: "Yes, March 15th has an adverse impact. This viewpoint is not unknown to me. I have heard it before. However, an acute danger must be eliminated through a moderate solution; this would have been better so foreigners think. (Speaking calmly) Four unfortunate accidents occurred concerning Czechoslovakia. Germans were responsible for two of these. The intellectuals were against my solution. The workers and farmers are at peace with it, as it always is when solutions are simple. They cannot imagine much war materiel we discovered in Czechoslovakia. It was a real surprise. We could hardly believe our eyes, and everything was in perfect order! Their inventories amazed our soldiers. The Czechs are and always have been excellent administrators, which is very different from the Poles. The general staff plans of the Czechs were the endeavors of school children, precise, modest, and narrow-minded. This is very different from the general staff plans of the Poles, which we possess, and which far exceed the visions of Alexander and Napoleon. Their technical and organizational state, however, is deplorable. Our soldiers are firmly committed [to war] in view of Polish impudence. Last year my generals were cautious and I had to take that into account. This year I must hold them back. Following my Reichstag address the generals gathered around me and said with great relief: 'thank God the Poles did not accept [my offer concerning the extra-territorial highway to Danzig]'. That was no real solution. For me, however, it is true when I say it was a solution, namely, my contribution to the case for peace. Later on I attempted to address our agricultural needs through a conference. We truly could have worked with the Poles on this subject. By allowing an extraterritorial highway no stone would have fallen from the Polish crown. The extraterritorial highway and Polish roads could have been bridged or connected by tunnels. They did not need to hinder one another. Our separated lands naturally would like to have connections to the Reich. This is essential to me."
Burckhardt: "Has this solution finally been set aside then?"
Hitler (perking up): "Unfortunately it was finally set aside by the Poles. Once they had taken this position, they could not go back. This is a shame."
(There was a long pause. Hitler then stood up and offered to take me on a tour of the property)
Hitler (walking on the road outside of the building): "How happy I am when I am here. I have had enough trouble. I need my rest."
Burckhardt (stating suggestively): "You are expressing the sentiments of the entire world. You more than anyone has the chance to give the world the peace and quiet it needs."
Hitler: "No, it is not so. (Hitler dismissed Foerster and stood there nervously while speaking softly) Because I recognize that England and France are inciting Poland to war, in which case I would rather have war today than tomorrow; to lead it this year rather than next year. Surely, however, one should attempt to find a way out? If the Poles leave Danzig at peace, if they do not attempt to hoodwink me with falsified maps, then I can wait. However a condition is that I must stop the suffering of our minority in Poland. No one believes me but I have ordered that sensational cases (e.g., castrations, etc.) not be mentioned in the press. They enrage public opinion very much. However, I cannot hold back the truth for much longer. The limits of patience have been reached."
"I am able to bring forward victims, for example in the South Tyrol. Yet no one gives me any recognition for this, instead they shriek: '[that is] unjust and inhumane!' I can bring forward political victims too, but everything has its limit."
"I did not always know it, but I know now, that England and France belong inseparably with one another. That is the nature of things. I do not intrigue against this situation, which is quite different from those other who intrigue against my friendship with Italy. I fought in the trenches for four years against England and France and I recognize the courage of both of these peoples. Yet there is something about the Anglo-Saxons (and the Americans) that separates them deeply from us [Germans]. What is it?"
Burckhardt: "Perhaps it is their fidelity when faced with obligations?"
Hitler: "One can interpret that in different ways. We recognize our deeds for what they are. They are hypocrites. I can cite examples."
Burckhardt: "Paix - Pax - Pacts, these words all have the same root, as do the words peace (Friede) and joy (Freude). With the Germans it is always a case of the sense [of a word]."
Hitler: "We are an ethnic nation (Volksstaat), the English an Empire. We are an [organic] body, England is an association."
Burckhardt: "But the Czechs and Slovaks are an association."
Hitler (speaking calmly): "The Protectorate is a necessity for the moment. The Slovaks can do what they want. I will not put any pressure on them. They can remain as they are or, if they so desire, they can join themselves with the Hungarians. I will not stand in the way. However, the Hungarians are incapable of ruling over them or of organizing them. I return once again to the same question: grain and timber. If someone wants to speak about these then I will listen. But it is an entirely different matter if they insult me and drown me out with laughter, as they did in May this last year. [This is a very important point. Hitler is referring the May 1938 threat of war by Britain and France relating to the Czech crisis.] I am not bluffing. If even the slightest incident occurs in Danzig or anything happens to our minorities, I will strike hard."
Burckhardt: "Forster told me that I should ask you a question - should I allow my children to remain in Danzig?"
Hitler: "Anything can happen in Danzig any day now, but only if the Poles will it to be so. I believe that your children would be better off in Switzerland."
"I have enjoyed seeing you. You come from a world that is alien to me. However, I have fought for a peaceful solution. I have great sympathy for another man, Lord Halifax. Many people have spoken badly of him to me, but my favorable first impression remains. I believe that he is a man who sees things in a very measured way and who also wants a peaceful solution. I hope to see him again someday."
~ End of the Conversation ~
"At the moment [I was leaving], before Hitler turned to go back into the Main Room, he had said to me: 'I would like, before it is too late, to speak to an Englishman who can speak German.' I responded, 'Sir Nevile Henderson speaks fluent German, from what I hear.' However, Hitler shook his head, 'That does not make sense,' he said, 'he is a diplomat who does not have a keen mind, I would like to speak with a man like Lord Halifax. But he can no longer come in person. How are things with Marshal Ironside? I hear good things about him. Will you tell this to the English?'"
Burckhardt added afterward that this final comment of Hitler's was later reprinted by the English in a report following Burckhardt's meeting with Roger Makins and Pierre Arnal in Basel, Switzerland on August 13, 1939. However, this comment was left out of the French version of his report. Burckhardt claims that this occurred for the following reason:
"[We, the English, the French, and myself,] had a standing and firm agreement that no one was supposed to know of the meeting I had with the two diplomats at my home in Basel. To my great astonishment, however, Minister Arnal was called to the telephone while I was in the middle of my report. Alarmed, I asked, 'What is the meaning of this? It was a precondition of our meeting that no one was to know of it!' Arnal reassured me, 'The only one who knows is our ambassador in Bern. Only he can call me here," and Arnal left the room. During his absence I expressed to Mr. Makins Hitler's wish to meet with Marshal Ironside."
"Yet as soon as Arnal returned, what he told me made my transmission of Hitler's wish for a final contact with the English moot. 'The ambassador,' Arnal explained, 'shared with me the news that the entire event of your visit to the Obersalzberg will be published in Paris Soir; and that the report will be so sensational it includes certain untrue elements, among which is the claim that Hitler handed you a letter to Nevile Chamberlain in which he asks the Prime Minister to join the Germans in a pact against Russia.'"
"This news brought to nothing the hopes that I had for my conversation at the Obersalzberg. ... The writer of this ludicrous article was a young journalist. ... As I later learned, on the morning of 11 August he had attempted to enter my office. A secretary had received him and told him that I had gone on a hunting trip in Austria. ... He then went around the city [of Danzig] and met with a number of people, asked questions, and learned that the airstrip had been closed since noon. He then went directly to the airstrip and spoke there with a Polish official who told him that the High Commissioner, escorted by the Gauleiter [of Danzig - Forster], has climbed into the private plane of the Reich Chancellor (Hitler) and flown away. The remaining parts of the report were a combination of this news and the fantasies of the young reporter."
Lastly, Burckhardt reported:
"Yet another thing was missing from the reports of Makins and Arnal, perhaps the most remarkable comment made to me by the Chancellor. Hitler had said to me on that August 11th:
'Everything I undertake is directed against Russia. If the West is too stupid and too blind to comprehend this I will be forced to reach an understanding with the Russians, turn and strike the West, and then after their defeat turn back against the Soviet Union with my collected strength. I need the Ukraine and with that no one can starve us out as they did in the last war.'"
"Following the meeting [with Makins and Arnal] I was so defeated by the indiscretion [that had been shown], that I had not reported this final and surprising comment of the Chancellor; it had seemed so completely improbable [that Hitler had said this] as to be part of an hallucination."