The German protocol was perfect. The Czech President was accorded all the formal honors due to a head of state. There was a military guard of honor at the station, where the German Foreign Minister himself greeted the distinguished visitor and slipped his daughter a fine bouquet of flowers. At the swank Adlon Hotel, where the party was put up in the best suite, there were chocolates for Miss Hácha—a personal gift of Adolf Hitler, who believed that everyone else shared his craving for sweets. And when the aged President and his Foreign Minister arrived at the Chancellery he was given a salute by an S.S. guard of honor.
They were not summoned to Hitler’s presence until 1:15 A.M. Hácha must have known what was in store for him. Before his train had left Czech territory he learned from Prague that German troops had already occupied Moravská-Ostrava, an important Czech industrial town, and were poised all along the perimeter of Bohemia and Moravia to strike. And he saw at once, as he entered the Fuehrer’s study in the early-morning hour, that, besides Ribbentrop and Weizsaecker, Field Marshal Goering, who had been urgently recalled from his holiday at San Remo, and General Keitel stood at Hitler’s side. Most probably, as he went into this lion’s den, he did not notice that Hitler’s physician, the quack Dr. Theodor Morell, was on tap. But the doctor was, and for good reason.
The secret German minutes of the meeting reveal a pitiful scene at the very outset. The unhappy Dr. Hácha, despite his background as a respected judge of the Supreme Court, shed all human dignity by groveling before the swaggering German Fuehrer. Perhaps the President thought that only in this way could he appeal to Hitler’s generosity and save something for his people; but regardless of his motive, his words, as the Germans recorded them for their confidential archives, nauseate the reader even so long afterward as today. He himself, Hácha assured Hitler, had never mixed in politics. He had rarely seen the founders of the Czechoslovak Republic, Masaryk and Beneš, and what he had seen of them he did not like. Their regime, he said, was “alien” to him—“so alien that immediately after the change of regime [after Munich] he had asked himself whether it was a good thing for Czechoslovakia to be an independent state at all.”
He was convinced that the destiny of Czechoslovakia lay in the Fuehrer’s hands, and he believed it was in safekeeping in such hands … Then he came to what affected him most, the fate of his people. He felt that it was precisely the Fuehrer who would understand his holding the view that Czechoslovakia had the right to live a national life … Czechoslovakia was being blamed because there still existed many supporters of the Beneš system … The Government was trying by every means to silence them. This was about all he had to say.
Adolf Hitler then said all there was to say. After rehearsing all the alleged wrongs which the Czechoslovakia of Masaryk and Beneš had done to Germans and Germany, and reiterating that unfortunately the Czechs had not changed since Munich, he came to the point.
He had come to the conclusion that this journey by the President, despite his advanced years, might be of great benefit to his country because it was only a matter of hours now before Germany intervened … He harbored no enmity against any nation … That the Rump State of Czechoslovakia existed at all was attributable only to his loyal attitude … In the autumn he had not wished to draw the final conclusions because he had thought a coexistence possible, but he had left no doubt that if the Beneš tendencies did not disappear completely he would destroy this state completely.
They had not disappeared, and he gave “examples.”
And so last Sunday, March 12, the die was cast … He had given the order for the invasion by the German troops and for the incorporation of Czechoslovakia into the German Reich.*
“Hácha and Chvalkovsky,” noted Dr. Schmidt, “sat as though turned to stone. Only their eyes showed that they were alive.” But Hitler was not quite through. He must humble his guests with threats of Teutonic terror.
The German Army [Hitler continued] had already marched in today, and at a barracks where resistance was offered it had been ruthlessly broken.
Tomorrow morning at six o’clock the German Army was to enter Czechia from all sides and the German Air Force would occupy the Czech airfields. There were two possibilities. The first was that the entry of German troops might develop into fighting. In that case, resistance would be broken by brute force. The other possibility was that the entry of the German troops would take place in a peaceful manner, in which case it would be easy for the Fuehrer to accord Czechoslovakia a generous way of life of her own, autonomy, and a certain measure of national freedom.
He was doing all this not from hatred but in order to protect Germany. If last autumn Czechoslovakia had not given in, the Czech people would have been exterminated. No one would have prevented him doing it. If it came to a fight … in two days the Czech Army would cease to exist. Naturally, some Germans would be killed too and this would engender a hatred which would compel him, in self-preservation, not to concede autonomy. The world would not care a jot about this. He sympathized with the Czech people when he read the foreign press. It gave him the impression which might be summed up in the German proverb: “The Moor has done his duty; the Moor can go.” …
That was why he had asked Hácha to come here. This was the last good turn he could render the Czech people … Perhaps Hácha’s visit might prevent the worst …
The hours were passing. At six o’clock the troops would march in. He was almost ashamed to say it, but for every Czech battalion there was a German division. He would like now to advise him [Hácha] to withdraw with Chvalkovsky and discuss what was to be done.
What was to be done? The broken old President did not have to withdraw to decide that. He told Hitler at once, “The position is quite clear. Resistance would be folly.” But how, he asked—since it was now a little after 2 A.M.—could he, in the space of four hours, arrange to restrain the whole Czech people from offering resistance? The Fuehrer replied that he had better consult with his companions. The German military machine was already in motion and could not be stopped. Hácha should get in touch at once with Prague. “It was a grave decision,” the German minutes report Hitler as saying, “but he saw dawning the possibility of a long period of peace between the two peoples. Should the decision be otherwise, he saw the annihilation of Czechoslovakia.”
With these words, he dismissed his guests for the time being. It was 2:15 A.M. In an adjoining room Goering and Ribbentrop stepped up the pressure on the two victims. According to the French ambassador, who in an official dispatch to Paris depicted the scene as he got it from what he believed to be an authentic source, Hácha and Chvalkovsky protested against the outrage to their nation. They declared they would not sign the document of surrender. Were they to do so they would be forever cursed by their people.
The German ministers [Goering and Ribbentrop] were pitiless [M. Coulondre wrote in his dispatch]. They literally hunted Dr. Hácha and M. Chvalkovsky round the table on which the documents were lying, thrusting them continually before them, pushing pens into their hands, incessantly repeating that if they continued in their refusal, half of Prague would lie in ruins from bombing within two hours, and that this would be only the beginning. Hundreds of bombers were waiting the order to take off, and they would receive that order at six in the morning if the signatures were not forthcoming.*
At this point, Dr. Schmidt, who seems to have managed to be present whenever and wherever the drama of the Third Reich reached a climax, heard Goering shouting for Dr. Morell.
“Hácha has fainted!” Goering cried out.
For a moment the Nazi bullies feared that the prostrate Czech President might die on their hands and, as Schmidt says, “that the whole world will say tomorrow that he was murdered at the Chancellery.” Dr. Morell’s specialty was injections—much later he would almost kill Hitler with them—and he now applied the needle to Dr. Hácha and brought him back to consciousness. The President was revived sufficiently to be able to grasp the telephone which the Germans thrust into his hand and talk to his government in Prague over a special line which Ribbentrop had ordered rigged up. He apprised the Czech cabinet of what had happened and advised surrender. Then, somewhat further restored by a second injection from the needle of Dr. Morell, the President of the expiring Republic stumbled back into the presence of Adolf Hitler to sign his country’s death warrant. It was now five minutes to four in the morning of March 15, 1939.
The text had been prepared “beforehand by Hitler,” Schmidt recounts, and during Hácha’s fainting spells the German interpreter had been busy copying the official communiqué, which had also been written up “beforehand,” and which Hácha and Chvalkovsky were also forced to sign. It read as follows:
Berlin, March 15, 1939
At their request, the Fuehrer today received the Czechoslovak President, Dr. Hácha, and the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, Dr. Chvalkovsky, in Berlin in the presence of Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop. At the meeting the serious situation created by the events of recent weeks in the present Czechoslovak territory was examined with complete frankness.
The conviction was unanimously expressed on both sides that the aim of all efforts must be the safeguarding of calm, order and peace in this part of Central Europe. The Czechoslovak President declared that, in order to serve this object and to achieve ultimate pacification, he confidently placed the fate of the Czech people and country in the hands of the Fuehrer of the German Reich. The Fuehrer accepted this declaration and expressed his intention of taking the Czech people under the protection of the German Reich and of guaranteeing them an autonomous development of their ethnic life as suited to their character.
Hitler’s chicanery had reached, perhaps, its summit.
According to one of his woman secretaries, Hitler rushed from the signing into his office, embraced all the women present and exclaimed, “Children! This is the greatest day of my life! I shall go down in history as the greatest German!”
It did not occur to him—how could it?—that the end of Czechoslovakia might be the beginning of the end of Germany. From this dawn of March 15, 1939—the Ides of March—the road to war, to defeat, to disaster, as we now know, stretched just ahead. It would be a short road and as straight as a line could be. And once on it, and hurtling down it, Hitler, like Alexander and Napoleon before him, could not stop.28
At 6 A.M. on March 15 German troops poured into Bohemia and Moravia. They met no resistance, and by evening Hitler was able to make the triumphant entry into Prague which he felt Chamberlain had cheated him of at Munich. Before leaving Berlin he had issued a grandiose proclamation to the German people, repeating the tiresome lies about the “wild excesses” and “terror” of the Czechs which he had been forced to bring an end to, and proudly proclaiming, “Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist!”
That night he slept in Hradschin Castle, the ancient seat of the kings of Bohemia high above the River Moldau where more recently the despised Masaryk and Beneš had lived and worked for the first democracy Central Europe had ever known. The Fuehrer’s revenge was complete, and that it was sweet he showed in the series of proclamations which he issued. He had paid off all the burning resentments against the Czechs which had obsessed him as an Austrian in his vagabond days in Vienna three decades before and which had flamed anew when Beneš dared to oppose him, the all-powerful German dictator, over the past year.
The next day, from Hradschin Castle, he proclaimed the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which though it professed to provide “autonomy and self-government” for the Czechs brought them, by its very language, completely under the German heel. All power was given to the “Reich Protector” and to his Secretary of State and his Head of the Civil Administration, who were to be appointed by the Fuehrer. To placate outraged public opinion in Britain and France, Hitler brought the “moderate” Neurath out of cold storage and named him Protector.* The two top Sudeten leaders, Konrad Henlein and the gangster Karl Hermann Frank, were given an opportunity to get revenge on the Czechs by being appointed Head of the Civil Administration and Secretary of State respectively. It was not long before Himmler, as boss of the German police, got a stranglehold on the protectorate. To do his work, he made the notorious Frank chief of police of the protectorate and ranking S.S. officer.*
For a thousand years [Hitler said in his proclamation of the protectorate] the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia formed part of the Lebensraum of the German people … Czechoslovakia showed its inherent inability to survive and has therefore now fallen a victim to actual dissolution. The German Reich cannot tolerate continuous disturbances in these areas … Therefore the German Reich, in keeping with the law of self-preservation, is now resolved to intervene decisively to rebuild the foundations of a reasonable order in Central Europe. For in the thousand years of its history it has already proved that, thanks to the greatness and the qualities of the German people, it alone is called upon to undertake this task.
A long night of German savagery now settled over Prague and the Czech lands.
On March 16, Hitler took Slovakia too under his benevolent protection in response to a “telegram,” actually composed in Berlin, as we have seen, from Premier Tiso. German troops quickly entered Slovakia to do the “protecting.” On March 18, Hitler was in Vienna to approve the “Treaty of Protection,” which, as signed on March 23 in Berlin by Ribbentrop and Dr. Tuka, contained a secret protocol giving Germany exclusive rights to exploit the Slovak economy.30
As for Ruthenia, which had formed the eastern tip of Czechoslovakia, its independence as the “Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine,” proclaimed on March 14, lasted just twenty-four hours. Its appeal to Hitler for “protection” was in vain. Hitler had already awarded this territory to Hungary. In the captured Foreign Office archives there is an interesting letter in the handwriting of Miklós Horthy, Regent of Hungary, addressed to Adolf Hitler on March 13.
YOUR EXCELLENCY: Heartfelt thanks! 1 cannot express how happy I am, for this headwater region [Ruthenia] is for Hungary—I dislike using big words—a vital question.… We are tackling the matter with enthusiasm. The plans are already laid. On Thursday, the 16th, a frontier incident will take place, to be followed Saturday by the big thrust.31
As things turned out, there was no need for an “incident.” Hungarian troops simply moved into Ruthenia at 6 A.M. on March 15, timing their entry with that of the Germans to the west, and on the following day the territory was formally annexed by Hungary.
Thus by the end of the day of March 15, which had started in Berlin at 1:15 A.M. when Hácha arrived at the Chancellery, Czechoslovakia, as Hitler said, had ceased to exist.
Neither Britain nor France made the slightest move to save it, though at Munich they had solemnly guaranteed Czechoslovakia against aggression.
Since that meeting not only Hitler but Mussolini had reached the conclusion that the British had become so weak and their Prime Minister, as a consequence, so accommodating that they need pay little further attention to London. On January 11, 1939, Chamberlain, accompanied by Lord Halifax, had journeyed to Rome to seek improvement in Anglo-Italian relations. This writer happened to be at the station in Rome when the two Englishmen arrived and noted in his diary the “fine smirk” on Mussolini’s face as he greeted his guests. “When Mussolini passed me,” I noted as the party left the station, “he was joking with his son-in-law [Ciano], passing wisecracks.”32 I could not, of course, catch what he was saying, but later Ciano, in his diary, revealed the gist of it.
Arrival of Chamberlain. [Ciano wrote on January 11 and 12] … How far apart we are from these people! It is another world. We were talking about it after dinner with the Duce. “These men are not made of the same stuff,” he was saying, “as the Francis Drakes and the other magnificent adventurers who created the Empire. These, after all, are the tired sons of a long line of rich men, and they will lose their Empire.”
The British do not want to fight. They try to draw back as slowly as possible, but they do not fight … Our conversations with the British have ended. Nothing was accomplished. I have telephoned Ribbentrop that the visit was “a big lemonade” [a farce]….
I accompanied the Duce to the station on the departure of Chamberlain [Ciano wrote on January 14]…. Chamberlain’s eyes filled with tears when the train started moving and his countrymen began singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” “What is this little song?” the Duce asked.33
Though during the Sudeten crisis Hitler had been solicitous of Chamberlain’s views, there is not a word in the captured German papers to indicate that thereafter he cared a whit what the Prime Minister thought of his destroying the rest of Czechoslovakia despite the British guarantee—and, for that matter, despite the Munich Agreement. On March 14, as Hitler waited in Berlin to humble Hácha, and as angry questions were raised in the House of Commons in London about Germany’s engineering Slovakia’s “secession” and about its effect on Britain’s guarantee to Pragueagainst aggression, Chamberlain replied heatedly, “No such aggression has taken place.”
But the next day, March 15, after it had taken place, the Prime Minister used the proclamation of Slovakia’s “independence” as an excuse not to honor his country’s word. “The effect of this declaration,” he explained, “put an end by internal disruption to the State whose frontier we had proposed to guarantee. His Majesty’s Government cannot accordingly hold themselves any longer bound by this obligation.”
Hitler’s strategy had thus worked to perfection. He had given Chamberlain his out and the Prime Minister had taken it.
It is interesting that the Prime Minister did not even wish to accuse Hitler of breaking his word. “I have so often heard charges of breach of faith bandied about which did not seem to me to be founded upon sufficient premises,” he said, “that I do not wish to associate myself today with any charges of that character.” He had not one word of reproach for the Fuehrer, not even for his treatment of Hácha and the shabby swindle which obviously—even if the details were still unknown—had been perpetrated at the Reich Chancellery on the early morning of this day, March 15.
No wonder that the British protest that day, if it could be called that,* was so tepid, and that the Germans treated it—and subsequent Anglo–French complaints—with so much arrogance and contempt.
His Majesty’s Government have no desire to interfere unnecessarily in a matter with which other Governments may be more directly concerned…. They are, however, as the German Government will surely appreciate, deeply concerned for the success of all efforts to restore confidence and a relaxation of tension in Europe. They would deplore any action in Central Europe which would cause a setback to the growth of this general confidence … 34
There was not a word in this note, which was delivered on March 15 by Ambassador Henderson to Ribbentrop as an official message from Lord Halifax, about the specific events of the day.
The French were at least specific. Robert Coulondre, the new ambassador of France in Berlin, shared neither his British colleague’s illusions about Nazism nor Henderson’s disdain of the Czechs. On the morning of the fifteenth he demanded an interview with Ribbentrop, but the vain and vindictive German Foreign Minister was already on his way to Prague, intending to share in Hitler’s humiliation of a beaten people. State Secretary von Weizsaecker received Coulondre, instead, at noon. The ambassador lost no time in saying what Chamberlain and Henderson were not yet ready to say: that by its military intervention in Bohemia and Moravia, Germany had violated both the Munich Agreement and the Franco–German declaration of December 6. Baron von Weizsaecker, who later was to insist that he had been stoutly anti-Nazi all along, was in an arrogant mood that would have done credit to Ribbentrop. According to his own memorandum of the meeting,
I spoke rather sharply to the Ambassador and told him not to mention the Munich Agreement, which he alleged had been violated, and not to give us any lectures … I told him that in view of the agreement reached last night with the Czech government I could see no reason for anydémarche by the French ambassador … and that I was sure he would find fresh instructions when he returned to his Embassy, and these would set his mind at rest.35
Three days later, on March 18, when the British and French governments, in deference to outraged public opinion at home, finally got around to making formal protests to the Reich, Weizsaecker fairly outdid his master, Ribbentrop, in his insolence—again on his own evidence. In a memorandum found in the German Foreign Office files, he tells with evident glee how he refused even to accept the formal French note of protest.
I immediately replaced the Note in its envelope and thrust it back at the Ambassador with the remark that I categorically refused to accept from him any protest regarding the Czecho-Slovak affair. Nor would I take note of the communication, and I would advise M. Coulondre to urge his government to revise the draft … 36
Coulondre, unlike Henderson at this period, was not an envoy who could be browbeaten by the Germans. He retorted that his government’s note had been written after due consideration and that he had no intention of asking for it to be revised. When the State Secretary continued to refuse to accept the document, the ambassador reminded him of common diplomatic practice and insisted that France had a perfect right to make known its views to the German government. Finally Weizsaecker, according to his own account, left the note lying on his desk, explaining that he “would regard it as transmitted to us through the post.” But before he arrived at this impudent gesture, he got the following off his mind:
From the legal point of view there existed a Declaration which had come about between the Fuehrer and the President of the Czecho-Slovak State. The Czech President, at his own request, had come to Berlin and had then immediately declared that he wished to place the fate of his country in the Fuehrer’s hands. 1 could not imagine that the French Government were more Catholic than the Pope and intended meddling in things which had been duly settled between Berlin and Prague.*
Weizsaecker behaved quite differently to the accommodating British ambassador, who transmitted his government’s protest late on the afternoon of March 18. Great Britain now held that it could not “but regard the events of the past few days as a complete repudiation of the Munich Agreement” and that the “German military actions” were “devoid of any basis of legality.” Weizsaecker, in recording it, noted that the British note did not go as far in this respect as the French protest, which said that France “would not recognize the legality of the German occupation.”
Henderson had gone to see Weizsaecker on March 17 to inform him of his recall to London for “consultations” and, according to the State Secretary, had sounded him out “for arguments which he could give Chamberlain for use against the latter’s political opposition … Henderson explained that there was no direct British interest in the Czechoslovak territory. His—Henderson’s—anxieties were more for the future.”37
Even Hitler’s destruction of Czechoslovakia apparently had not awakened the British ambassador to the nature of the government he was accredited to, nor did he seem aware of what was happening that day to the government which he represented.
For, suddenly and unexpectedly, Neville Chamberlain, on March 17, two days after Hitler extinguished Czechoslovakia, had experienced a great awakening. It had not come without some prodding. Greatly to his surprise, most of the British press (even the Times, but not the Daily Mail) and the House of Commons had reacted violently to Hitler’s latest aggression. More serious, many of his own backers in Parliament and half of the cabinet had revolted against any further appeasement of Hitler. Lord Halifax, especially, as the German ambassador informed Berlin, had insisted that the Prime Minister recognize what had happened and abruptly change his course.38 It dawned on Chamberlain that his own position as head of government and leader of the Conservative Party was in jeopardy.
His radical change of mind came abruptly. As late as the evening of March 16, Sir John Simon, on behalf of the government, had made a speech in the Commons which was so cynical in regard to the Czechs, and so much in the “Munich spirit,” that according to press accounts it aroused the House to “a pitch of anger rarely seen.” The next day, on the eve of his seventieth birthday, Chamberlain was scheduled to make a speech in his home city of Birmingham. He had drafted an address on domestic matters with special emphasis on the social services. On the afternoon train going up to Birmingham, according to an account given this writer by French diplomatic sources, Chamberlain finally made his decision. He jettisoned his prepared speech and quickly jotted down notes for one of quite a different kind.
To all of Britain and indeed to large parts of the world, for the speech was broadcast, Chamberlain apologized for “the very restrained and cautious … somewhat cool and objective statement” which he had felt obliged to make in the Commons two days before. “I hope to correct that statement tonight,” he said.
The Prime Minister at last saw that Adolf Hitler had deceived him. He recapitulated the Fuehrer’s various assurances that the Sudetenland had been his last territorial demand in Europe and that he “wanted no Czechs.” Now Hitler had gone back on them—“he has taken the law into his own hands.”
Now we are told that this seizure of territory has been necessitated by disturbances in Czechoslovakia…. If there were disorders, were they not fomented from without? … Is this the end of an old adventure or is it the beginning of a new? Is this the last attack upon a small State or is it to be followed by others? Is this, in effect, a step in the direction of an attempt to dominate the world by force? … While I am not prepared to engage this country by new and unspecified commitments operating under conditions which cannot now be foreseen, yet no greater mistake could be made than to suppose that because it believes war to be a senseless and cruel thing, this nation has so lost its fiber that it will not take part to the utmost of its power in resisting such a challenge if it ever were made.
This was an abrupt and fateful turning point for Chamberlain and for Britain, and Hitler was so warned the very next day by the astute German ambassador in London. “It would be wrong,” Herbert von Dirksen notified the German Foreign Office in a lengthy report on March 18, “to cherish any illusions that a fundamental change has not taken place in Britain’s attitude to Germany.”39
It was obvious to anyone who had read Mein Kampf, who glanced at a map and saw the new positions of the German Army in Slovakia, who had wind of certain German diplomatic moves since Munich, or who had pondered the dynamics of Hitler’s bloodless conquests of Austria and Czechoslovakia in the past twelve months, just which of the “small states” would be next on the Fuehrer’s list. Chamberlain, like almost everyone else, knew perfectly well.
On March 31, sixteen days after Hitler entered Prague, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons:
In the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty’s Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government an assurance to this effect. I may add that the French Government have authorized me to make it plain that they stand in the same position in this matter.
The turn of Poland had come.
* The parentheses are in the original.
* Major Buch’s report gives an authentic picture of justice in the Third Reich. “In the following cases of killing Jews,” one part reads, “proceedings were suspended or minor punishments were pronounced.” He then cites a large number of such “cases,” giving the names of the murdered and the murderers. “Party Member Fruehling, August, because of shooting of the Jewish couple Goldberg and because of shooting of the Jew Sinasohn … Party Members Behring, Willi, and Heike, Josef, because of the shooting of the Jew Rosenbaum and the Jewess Zwienicki … Party Members Schmidt, Heinrich, and Meckler, Ernst, because of drowning the Jew Ilsoffer …,” etc.
* When asked during cross-examination by Mr. Justice Jackson at Nuremberg whether he had actually said this, Goering replied, “Yes, this was said in a moment of bad temper and excitement … It was not meant seriously.”6
* The American ambassador in Berlin, Hugh Wilson, was recalled by President Roosevelt on November 14, two days after Goering’s meeting, “for consultations,” and never returned to his post. The German ambassador in Washington, Hans Dieckhoff, who on that day reported to Berlin that “a hurricane is raging here” as the result of the German pogrom, was recalled on November 18 and likewise never returned. On November 30, Hans Thomsen, the German chargé d’affaires in Washington, advised Berlin by code that “in view of the strained relations and the lack of security for secret material” in the embassy, the “secret political files” be removed to Berlin. “The files,” he said, “are so bulky that they cannot be destroyed quickly enough should the necessity arise.”7
* On January 28, 1939, Lord Halifax secretly warned President Roosevelt that “as early as November 1938, there were indications which gradually became more definite that Hitler was planning a further foreign adventure for the spring of 1939.” The British Foreign Secretary said that “reports indicate that Hitler, encouraged by Ribbentrop, Himmler and others, is considering an attack on the Western Powers as a preliminary to subsequent action in the East.”8
* A German version of Ribbentrop’s talk with Ciano in Rome on October 28, drawn up by Dr. Schmidt, confirms Ribbentrop’s bellicose attitude and quotes him as saying that Germany and Italy must prepare for “armed conflict with the Western democracies … here and now.” At this meeting Ribbentrop also assured Ciano that Munich had revealed the strength of the isolationists in the U.S.A. “so that there is nothing to fear from America.”10
† This fantastic retreat, built at great cost over three years, was difficult to reach. Ten miles of a hairpin road, cut into the mountainside, led up to a long underground passageway, drilled into the rock, from which an elevator carried one 370 feet to the cabin perched at an elevation of over 6,000 feet on the summit of a mountain. It afforded a breath-taking panorama of the Alps. Salzburg could be seen in the distance. Describing it later, François-Poncet wondered, “Was this edifice the work of a normal mind or of one tormented by megalomania and haunted by visions of domination and solitude?”
* On November 24, Hitler issued another secret directive instructing the Wehrmacht to make preparations for the military occupation of Danzig, but that will be taken up later. Already the Fuehrer was looking beyond the final conquest of Czechoslovakia.
* Hitler also demanded that the Czechoslovak National Bank turn over part of its gold reserve to the Reichsbank. The sum requested was 391.2 million Czech crowns in gold. On February 18 Goering wrote the German Foreign Office: “In view of the increasingly difficult currency position, I must insist most strongly that the 30 to 40 million Reichsmarks in gold [from the Czech National Bank] which are involved come into our possession very shortly; they are urgently required for the execution of important orders of the Fuehrer.”16
† See above, p. 359.
* Monsignor Tiso, as this writer recalls him, was almost as broad as he was high. He was an enormous eater. “When I get worked up,” he once told Dr. Paul Schmidt, “I eat half a pound of ham, and that soothes my nerves.” He was to die on the gallows. Arrested by American Army authorities on June 8, 1945, and turned over to the newly restored Czechoslovakia, he was condemned to death on April 15, 1947, after a trial lasting four months, and was executed on April 18.
* Italics in the original German minutes.
* There is a difference of opinion on this point. Some historians have contended that the Germans forced Hácha to come to Berlin. They probably base this contention on a dispatch of the French ambassador in Berlin, who said he had learned this “from a reliable source.” But the German Foreign Office documents, subsequently discovered, make it clear that the initiative came from Hácha. He first requested an interview with Hitler on March 13, through the German Legation in Prague, and repeated the request on the morning of the fourteenth. Hitler agreed to it that afternoon.25
* The emphasis is in the German original.
* On the stand in Nuremberg, Goering admitted that he told Hácha, “I should be sorry if I had to bomb beautiful Prague.” He really didn’t intend to carry out the threat—“that would not have been necessary,” he explained. “But a point like that, I thought, might serve as an argument and accelerate the whole matter.”27
* On the stand at Nuremberg, Neurath stated that he was taken by “complete surprise” when Hitler named him Protector, and that he had “misgivings” about taking the job. However, he says, he took it when Hitler explained that by this appointment he wanted to assure Britain and France “that he did not wish to carry on a policy hostile to Czechoslovakia.”29
* It might be of interest to skip ahead here and note what happened to some of the characters in the drama just recounted. Frank was sentenced to death by a postwar Czech court and publicly hanged near Prague on May 22, 1946. Henlein committed suicide after his arrest by Czech resistance forces in 1945. Chvalkovsky, who became the representative of the protectorate in Berlin, was killed in an Allied bombing there in 1944. Hácha was arrested by the Czechs on May 14, 1945, but died before he could be tried.
* On March 16 Chamberlain told the Commons that “so far” no protest had been lodged with the German government.
* Coulondre’s version of the interview is given in the French Yellow Book (No. 78, pp. 102–3, in the French edition). He confirms Weizsaecker’s account. Later, at his trial in Nuremberg, the State Secretary argued that in his memoranda of such meetings he had purposely exaggerated his Nazi sentiments in order to cover his real anti-Nazi activities. But Coulondre’s account of the meeting is only one piece of evidence that Weizsaecker did not exaggerate at all.