Military history

HITLER IN THE REICHSTAG: DECEMBER 11

Hitler’s address on December 11 to the robots of the Reichstag in defense of his declaration of war on the United States was devoted mainly to hurling personal insults at Franklin D. Roosevelt, to charging that the President had provoked war in order to cover up the failures of the New Deal and to thundering that “this man alone,” backed by the millionaires and the Jews, was “responsible for the Second World War.” All the accumulated, pent-up resentment at a man who had stood from the first in his way toward world dominion, who had continually taunted him, who had provided massive aid to Britain at a moment when it seemed that battered island nation would fall, and whose Navy was frustrating him in the Atlantic burst forth in violent wrath.

Permit me to define my attitude to that other world, which has its representative in that man who, while our soldiers are fighting in snow and ice, very tactfully likes to make his chats from the fireside, the man who is the main culprit of this war …

I will pass over the insulting attacks made by this so-called President against me. That he calls me a gangster is uninteresting. After all, this expression was not coined in Europe but in America, no doubt because such gangsters are lacking here. Apart from this, I cannot be insulted by Roosevelt, for I consider him mad, just as Wilson was … First he incites war, then falsifies the causes, then odiously wraps himself in a cloak of Christian hypocrisy and slowly but surely leads mankind to war, not without calling God to witness the honesty of his attack—in the approved manner of an old Freemason …

Roosevelt has been guilty of a series of the worst crimes against international law. Illegal seizure of ships and other property of German and Italian nationals was coupled with the threat to, and looting of, those who were deprived of their liberty by being interned. Roosevelt’s ever increasing attacks finally went so far that he ordered the American Navy to attack everywhere ships under the German and Italian flags, and to sink them—this in gross violation of international law. American ministers boasted of having destroyed German submarines in this criminal way. German and Italian merchant ships were attacked by American cruisers, captured and their crews imprisoned.

In this way the sincere efforts of Germany and Italy to prevent an extension of the war and to maintain relations with the United States in spite of the unbearable provocations which have been carried on for years by President Roosevelt have been frustrated …

What was Roosevelt’s motive “to intensify anti-German feeling to the pitch of war”? Hitler asked. He gave two explanations.

I understand only too well that a world-wide distance separates Roosevelt’s ideas and my ideas. Roosevelt comes from a rich family and belongs to the class whose path is smoothed in the democracies. I was only the child of a small, poor family and had to fight my way by work and industry. When the Great War came Roosevelt occupied a position where he got to know only its pleasant consequences, enjoyed by those who do business while others bleed. I was only one of those who carried out orders as an ordinary soldier, and naturally returned from the war just as poor as I was in the autumn of 1914. I shared the fate of millions, and Franklin Roosevelt only the fate of the so-called Upper Ten Thousand.

After the war Roosevelt tried his hand at financial speculations. He made profits out of inflation, out of the misery of others, while I … lay in a hospital …

Hitler continued at some length with this singular comparison before he reached his second point, that Roosevelt had reverted to war to escape the consequences of his failure as President.

National Socialism came to power in Germany in the same year as Roosevelt was elected President … He took over a state in a very poor economic condition, and I took over the Reich faced with complete ruin, thanks to democracy …

While an unprecedented revival of economic life, culture and art took place in Germany under National Socialist leadership, President Roosevelt did not succeed in bringing about even the slightest improvement in his own country … This is not surprising if one bears in mind that the men he had called to support him, or rather, the men who had called him, belonged to the Jewish element, whose interests are all for disintegration and never for order …

Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation was all wrong. There can be no doubt that a continuation of this economic policy would have undone this President in peacetime, in spite of all his dialectical skill. In a European state he would surely have come eventually before a state court on a charge of deliberate waste of the national wealth; and he would scarcely have escaped at the hands of a civil court on a charge of criminal business methods.

Hitler knew that this assessment of the New Deal was shared, in part at least, by the American isolationists and a considerable portion of the business community and he sought to make the most of it, ignorant of the fact that on Pearl Harbor Day these groups, like all others in America, had rallied to the support of their country.

This fact was realized [he continued, alluding to these groups] and fully appreciated by many Americans, including some of high standing. A threatening opposition was gathering over the head of this man. He guessed that the only salvation for him lay in diverting public attention from home to foreign policy … He was strengthened in this by the Jews around him … The full diabolical meanness of Jewry rallied around this man, and he stretched out his hands.

Thus began the increasing efforts of the American President to create conflicts … For years this man harbored one desire—that a conflict should break out somewhere in the world.

There followed a long recital of Roosevelt’s efforts in this direction, beginning with the “quarantine” speech in Chicago in 1937. “Now he [Roosevelt] is seized,” Hitler cried at one point, “with fear that if peace is brought about in Europe his squandering of millions of money on armaments will be looked upon as plain fraud, since nobody will attack America—and then he himself must provoke this attack upon his country.”

The Nazi dictator seemed relieved that the break had come and he sought to share his sense of relief with the German people.

I think you have all found it a relief now that, at last, one State has been the first to take the step of protesting against this historically unique and shameless ill treatment of truth and of right … The fact that the Japanese Government, which has been negotiating for years with this man, has at last become tired of being mocked by him in such an unworthy way fills us all, the German people and, I think, all other decent people in the world, with deep satisfaction … The President of the United States ought finally to understand—I say this only because of his limited intellect—that we know that the aim of his struggle is to destroy one state after another …

As for the German nation, it needs charity neither from Mr. Roosevelt nor from Mr. Churchill, let alone from Mr. Eden. It wants only its rights! It will secure for itself this right to live even if thousands of Churchills and Roosevelts conspire against it …

I have therefore arranged for passports to be handed to the American chargé d’affaires today, and the following—46

At this point the deputies of the Reichstag leaped to their feet cheering, and the Fuehrer’s words were drowned in the bedlam.

Shortly afterward, at 2:30 P.M., Ribbentrop, in one of his most frigid poses, received Leland Morris, the American chargé d’affaires in Berlin, and while keeping him standing read out Germany’s declaration of war, handed him a copy and icily dismissed him.

… Although Germany for her part [said the declaration] has always strictly observed the rules of international law in her dealings with the United States throughout the present war, the Government of the United States has finally proceeded to overt acts of war against Germany. It has, therefore, virtually created a state of war.

The Reich Government therefore breaks off all diplomatic relations with the United States and declares that under these circumstances brought about by President Roosevelt, Germany too considers herself to be at war with the United States, as from today.47

The final act in the day’s drama was the signing of a tripartite agreement by Germany, Italy and Japan declaring “their unshakable determination not to lay down arms until the joint war against the United States and England reaches a successful conclusion” and not to conclude a separate peace.

Adolf Hitler, who a bare six months before had faced only a beleaguered Britain in a war which seemed to him as good as won, now, by deliberate choice, had arrayed against him the three greatest industrial powers in the world in a struggle in which military might depended largely, in the long run, on economic strength. Those three enemy countries together also had a great preponderance of manpower over the three Axis nations. Neither Hitler nor his generals nor his admirals seem to have weighed those sobering facts on that eventful December day as the year 1941 drew toward a close.

General Halder, the intelligent Chief of the General Staff, did not even note in his diary on December 11 that Germany had declared war on the United States. He mentioned only that in the evening he attended a lecture by a naval captain on the “background of the Japanese-American sea war.” The rest of his diary, understandably perhaps, was taken up with the continued bad news from most sectors of the hard-pressed Russian front. There was no room in his thoughts for an eventual day when his weakened armies might also have to confront fresh troops from the New World.

Admiral Raeder actually welcomed Hitler’s move. He conferred with the Fuehrer on the following day, December 12. “The situation in the Atlantic,” he assured him, “will be eased by Japan’s successful intervention.” And warming up to his subject he added:

Reports have already been received of the transfer of some [American] battleships from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is certain that light forces, especially destroyers, will be required in increased numbers in the Pacific. The need for transport ships will be very great, so that a withdrawal of American merchant ships from the Atlantic can be expected. The strain on British merchant shipping will increase.

Hitler, having taken his plunge, and with such reckless bravado, now suddenly was prey to doubts. He had some questions to put to the Grand Admiral. Did he “believe that the enemy will in the near future take steps to occupy the Azores, the Cape Verdes and perhaps even to attack Dakar, in order to win back prestige lost as the result of the setbacks in the Pacific?” Raeder did not think so.

The U.S. [he answered] will have to concentrate all her strength in the Pacific during the next few months. Britain will not want to run any risks after her severe losses of big ships.* It is hardly likely that transport tonnage is available for such occupation tasks or for bringing up supplies.

Hitler had a more important question to pose. “Is there any possibility,” he asked, “that the U.S.A. and Britain will abandon East Asia for a time in order to crush Germany and Italy first?” Here again the Grand Admiral was reassuring.

It is improbable [he answered] that the enemy will give up East Asia even temporarily; by so doing Britain would endanger India very seriously, and the U.S. cannot withdraw her fleet from the Pacific as long as the Japanese fleet has the upper hand.

Raeder further tried to cheer up the Fuehrer by informing him that six “large” submarines were to proceed “as quickly as possible” to the east coast of the United States.48

With the situation in Russia being what it was, not to mention that in North Africa, where Rommel was also retreating, the thoughts of the German Supreme Commander and his military chiefs quickly turned from the new enemy, which they were sure would have its hands full in the Pacific far away. Their thoughts were not to return to it before another year had passed, the most fateful year of the war, in which the great turning point would come—irrevocably deciding not only the outcome of the conflict which all through 1941 the Germans had believed almost over, almost won, but the fate of the Third Reich, whose astounding early victories had raised it so quickly to such a giddy height and which Hitler sincerely believed—and said—would flourish for a thousand years.

Halder’s scribblings in his diary grew ominous as New Year’s, 1942, drew near.

“Another dark day!” he began his journal on December 30, 1941, and again on the last day of the year. The Chief of the German General Staff had a presentiment of terrible things to come.

* The italics are Hitler’s.

* Hull made the remark to the new Japanese ambassador in Washington, Admiral Nomura, in the presence of Mr. Roosevelt on March 14. Nomura replied that Matsuoka “talked loudly for home consumption because he was ambitious politically.” (The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, II, pp. 900–01.)

* Mussolini had told him, he informed Hitler, that “America was the Number One enemy, and Soviet Russia came only in second place.”

 Or of anything else about the United States. His weird conception of America—by this time Hitler had come to believe his own Nazi propaganda—was given further exposition in a talk, he had with Mussolini at the Russian front late in August 1941. “The Fuehrer,” the Italian records quote him indirectly as saying, “gave a detailed account of the Jewish clique which surrounds Roosevelt and exploits the American people. He stated that he could not, for anything in the world, live in a country like the U.S.A., whose conceptions of life are inspired by the most grasping commercialism and which does not love any of the loftiest expressions of the human spirit such as music.” (Ciano’s Diplomatic Papers, pp. 449–52.)

* The author’s italics.

* News of the signing in Moscow of the Soviet-Japanese neutrality pact caused considerable alarm in Washington, where Roosevelt and Hull were inclined to take a view similar to Hitler’s—namely, that the treaty would release Japanese forces earmarked for a possible war with Russia for action farther south against British and perhaps American possessions. Sherwood discloses that on April 13, when the news of the conclusion of the pact was received, the President scrapped a plan for launching aggressive action by U.S. naval ships against German U-boats in the western Atlantic. A new order called merely for American warships to report movements of German naval vessels west of Iceland, not to shoot at them. It was considered that the new Japanese—Soviet neutrality agreement made the situation in the Pacific too dangerous to risk too much in the Atlantic. (Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, p. 291.)

* Ribbentrop kept trying all that fall and several times during the next two years to induce the Japanese to fall upon Russia from the rear, but each time the Tokyo government replied politely, in effect, “So sorry, please.”

Hitler himself remained hopeful all through the summer. On August 26 he told Raeder he was “convinced that Japan will carry out the attack on Vladivostok as soon as forces have been assembled. The present aloofness can be explained by the fact that the assembling of forces is to be accomplished undisturbed, and the attack is to come as a surprise.”11

The Japanese archives reveal how Tokyo evaded the Germans on this embarrassing question. When, for instance, on August 19 Ambassador Ott asked the Japanese Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs about Japan’s intervention against Russia, the latter replied, “For Japan to do a thing like attacking Russia would be a very serious question and would require profound reflection.” When on August 30 Ott, who by now was a very irritated ambassador, asked Foreign Minister Admiral Toyoda, “Is there any possibility that Japan may participate in the Russo–German war?” Toyoda replied, “Japan’s preparations are now making headway, and it will take more time for their completion.”12

* The Germans had no long-range bombers capable of reaching the American coast from the Azores—much less getting back—and it is a sign of the warping of Hitler’s mind by this time that he conjured up the nonexistent “long-range bombers.”

* It might be noted here that on the stand at Nuremberg Admiral Raeder insisted that he did everything possible to avoid provoking the United States into war.

* “History has recorded who fired the first shot,” Roosevelt declared in reference to this incident in a Navy Day speech on October 27. In all fairness it would seem that in dropping depth charges the United States fired the first shot. According to the confidential German Navy records this was not the first such occasion. The official U.S. naval historian confirms that as early as April 10 the Niblack (see above, p. 880) attacked a U-boat with depth charges. (Samuel Eliot Morison, History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. I, p. 57.)

* “I credit Nomura,” Hull wrote later in his memoirs, “with having been honestly sincere in trying to avoid war between his country and mine.” (The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, II, p. 987.)

* Prince Konoye’s postwar memoirs reveal that as early as August 4 he was forced to agree to a demand of the Army that if, in his proposed meeting with Roosevelt, the President did not accept Japan’s terms, he would walk out of the meeting “with a determination to make war on the United States.” (Hull, Memoirs, pp. 1025–26.)

* Hull says that he received a copy of this message through “Magic.” Thus Washington, as well as Berlin, knew by the last day of November that the Japanese might strike against the United States “quicker than anyone dreamt.” (Hull, Memoirs, p. 1092.)

* It was long believed by many that Hitler knew in advance the exact hour of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but I have been unable to find a single scrap of evidence in the secret German papers to substantiate it.

 In Tokyo at the same time Foreign Minister Togo was telling Ambassador Ott, “The Japanese Government expects that now Germany too will speedily declare war on the United States.”41

* My own impression in Washington at that moment was that it might be difficult for President Roosevelt to get Congress to declare war on Germany. There seemed to be a strong feeling in both Houses as well as in the Army and Navy that the country ought to concentrate its efforts on defeating Japan and not take on the additional burden of fighting Germany at the same time.

Hans Thomsen, the German chargé in Washington, who, like all the other Nazi envoys abroad, was usually kept ignorant of what Hitler and Ribbentrop were conniving, reported this sentiment to Berlin. Immediately after the President’s speech to Congress on the morning of December 8 calling for a declaration of war on Japan Thomsen radioed Berlin: “The fact that he [Roosevelt] did not mention Germany and Italy with one word shows that he will try at first to avoid sharpening the situation in the Atlantic.” On the evening of the same day Thomsen got off another dispatch on the subject: “Whether Roosevelt will demand declaration of war on Germany and Italy is uncertain. From the standpoint of the American military leaders it would be logical to avoid everything which could lead to a two-front war.” In several dispatches just prior to Pearl Harbor the German chargé had emphasized that the United States simply was not prepared for a two-front war. On December 4 he had radioed the revelations in the Chicago Tribune of the “war plans of the American High Command on preparations and prospects for defeating Germany and her allies.”

Report confirms [he said] that full participation of America in war is not to be expected before July, 1943. Military measures against Japan are of defensive character.

In his message to Berlin on the evening of December 8, Thomsen stressed that Pearl Harbor was certain to bring relief to Germany from America’s belligerent activities in the Atlantic.

War with Japan [he reported] means transferring of all energy to America’s own rearmament, a corresponding shrinking of Lend-Lease help and a shifting of all activity to the Pacific.

For the exchange of dispatches between the Wilhelmstrasse and the German Embassy in Washington during this period, I am indebted to the State Department, which gave me access to them. They will be published later in the Documents on German Foreign Policy series.

 See above, p. 888.

 “I don’t see much future for the Americans,” he told his cronies a month later during a monologue at headquarters on January 7, 1942. “It’s a decayed country. And they have their racial problem, and the problem of social inequalities … My feelings against Americanism are feelings of hatred and deep repugnance … Everything about the behavior of American society reveals that it’s half Judaized, and the other half Negrified. How can one expect a State like that to hold together—a country where everything is built on the dollar.” (Hitler’s Secret Conversations, p. 155.)

* Dieckhoff, whom Hassell thought “temperamentally submissive,” had drawn up just a week before at the request of Ribbentrop a long memorandum entitled “Principles for Influencing American Public Opinion.” Among his eleven principles were: “Real danger to America is Roosevelt himself … Influence of Jews on Roosevelt (Frankfurter, Baruch, Benjamin Cohen, Samuel Rosenman, Henry Morgenthau, etc.) … The slogan for every American mother must be: “I didn’t raise my boy to die for Britain!” (From the Foreign Office papers, not yet published.) Some Americans in the State Department and in our embassy in Berlin thought rather highly of Dieckhoff and believed him to be anti-Nazi. My own feeling was that he lacked the guts to be. He served Hitler to the end—from 1943 to 1945 as the Nazi ambassador to Franco Spain.

 Thomsen also urged Berlin to arrest the American correspondents there in retaliation for the arrest of a handful of German newsmen in the United States. A Foreign Office memorandum signed by Undersecretary Ernst on December 10 declares that all American correspondents in Germany were ordered arrested as “a reprisal.” Excepted was Guido Enderis, chief correspondent in Berlin of the New York Times, “because,” Woermann wrote, “of his proved friendliness to Germany.” This may be unfair to the late Enderis, who was in ill health at the time and who mainly for that reason perhaps was not arrested.

* Two days before, on December 10, Japanese planes had sunk two British battleships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, off the coast of Malaya. Coupled with the crippling American losses in battleships at Pearl Harbor on December 7, this blow gave the Japanese fleet complete supremacy in the Pacific, the China Sea and the Indian Ocean. “In all the war,” Churchill wrote later of the loss of the two great ships, “I never received a more direct shock.”

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