The replies were potent ammunition for Hitler, and he made masterly use of them as he swung into his speech to the Reichstag on the pleasant spring day of April 28, 1939. It was, I believe, the longest major public speech he ever made, taking more than two hours to deliver. In many ways, especially in the power of its appeal to Germans and to the friends of Nazi Germany abroad, it was probably the most brilliant oration he ever gave, certainly the greatest this writer ever heard from him. For sheer eloquence, craftiness, irony, sarcasm and hypocrisy, it reached a new level that he was never to approach again. And though prepared for German ears, it was broadcast not only on all German radio stations but on hundreds of others throughout the world; in the United States it was carried by the major networks. Never before or afterward was there such a world-wide audience as he had that day.*
The speech began, after the usual introductory dissertation on the iniquities of Versailles and the many injustices and long suffering heaped upon the German people by it, with an answer first to Great Britain and Poland which shook an uneasy Europe.
After declaring his feeling of admiration and friendship for England and then attacking it for its distrust of him and its new “policy of encirclement” of Germany, he denounced the Anglo–German Naval Treaty of 1935. “The basis for it,” he said, “has been removed.”
Likewise with Poland. He made known his proposal to Poland concerning Danzig and the Corridor (which had been kept secret), called it “the greatest imaginable concession in the interests of European peace” and informed the Reichstag that the Polish government had rejected this “one and only offer.”
I have regretted this incomprehensible attitude of the Polish Government … The worst is that now Poland, like Czechoslovakia a year ago, believes, under pressure of a lying international campaign, that it must call up troops, although Germany has not called up a single man and had not thought of proceeding in any way against Poland. This is in itself very regrettable, and posterity will one day decide whether it was really right to refuse this suggestion, made this once by me … a truly unique compromise …
Reports that Germany intended to attack Poland, Hitler went on, were “mere inventions of the international press.” (Not one of the tens of millions of persons listening could know that only three weeks before he had given written orders to his armed forces to prepare for the destruction of Poland by September 1, “at the latest.”) The inventions of the press, he continued, had led Poland to make its agreement with Great Britain which, “under certain circumstances, would compel Poland to take military action against Germany.” Therefore, Poland had broken the Polish–German nonaggression pact! “Therefore, I look upon the agreement … as having been unilaterally infringed by Poland and thereby no longer in existence.”
Having himself unilaterally torn up two formal treaties, Hitler then told the Reichstag that he was willing to negotiate replacements for them! “I can but welcome such an idea,” he exclaimed. “No one would be happier than I at the prospect.” This was an old trick he had pulled often before when he had broken a treaty, as we have seen, but though he probably did not know it, it would no longer work.
Hitler next turned to President Roosevelt, and here the German dictator reached the summit of his oratory. To a normal ear, to be sure, it reeked with hypocrisy and deception. But to the hand-picked members of the Reichstag, and to millions of Germans, its masterly sarcasm and irony were a delight. The paunchy deputies rocked with raucous laughter as the Fuehrer uttered with increasing effect his seemingly endless ridicule of the American President. One by one he took up the points of Roosevelt’s telegram, paused, almost smiled, and then, like a schoolmaster, uttered in a low voice one word, “Answer”—and gave it. (This writer can still, in his mind, see Hitler pausing time after time to say quietly, “Antwort,” while above the rostrum in the President’s chair Goering tried ineffectually to stifle a snicker and the members of the Reichstag prepared, as soon as theAntwort was given, to roar and laugh.)
Mr. Roosevelt declares that it is clear to him that all international problems can be solved at the council table.
Answer: … I would be very happy if these problems could really find their solution at the council table. My skepticism, however, is based on the fact that it was America herself who gave sharpest expression to her mistrust in the effectiveness of conferences. For the greatest conference of all time was the League of Nations … representing all the peoples of the world, created in accordance with the will of an American President. The first State, however, that shrank from this endeavor was the United States … It was not until after years of purposeless participation that I resolved to follow the example of America….
The freedom of North America was not achieved at the conference table any more than the conflict between the North and the South was decided there. I will say nothing about the innumerable struggles which finally led to the subjugation of the North American continent as a whole.
I mention all this only in order to show that your view, Mr. Roosevelt, although undoubtedly deserving of all honor, finds no confirmation in the history of your own country or of the rest of the world.
Germany, Hitler reminded the President, had once gone to a conference—at Versailles—not to discuss but to be told what to do: its representatives “were subjected to even greater degradations than can ever have been inflicted on the chieftains of the Sioux tribes.”
Hitler finally got to the core of his answer to the President’s request that he give assurances not to attack any of thirty-one nations.
Answer: How has Mr. Roosevelt learned which nations consider themselves threatened by German policy and which do not? Or is Mr. Roosevelt in a position, in spite of the enormous amount of work which must rest upon him in his own country, to recognize of his own accord all these inner spiritual and mental impressions of other peoples and their governments?
Finally, Mr. Roosevelt asks that assurance be given him that the German armed forces will not attack, and above all, not invade the territory or possessions of the following independent nations …
Hitler then read out slowly the name of each country and as he intoned the names, I remember, the laughter in the Reichstag grew. Not one member, no one in Berlin, I believe, including this writer, noticed that he slyly left out Poland.
Hitler now pulled the ace out of the pack, or so he must have thought.
Answer: I have taken the trouble to ascertain from the States mentioned, firstly, whether they feel themselves threatened, and secondly and above all, whether this inquiry by the American President was addressed to us at their suggestion, or at any rate, with their consent.
The reply was in all cases negative … It is true that I could not cause inquiries to be made of certain of the States and nations mentioned because they themselves—as for example, Syria—are at present not in possession of their freedom, but are occupied and consequently deprived of their rights by the military agents of democratic States.
Apart from this fact, however, all States bordering on Germany have received much more binding assurances … than Mr. Roosevelt asked from me in his curious telegram….
I must draw Mr. Roosevelt’s attention to one or two historical errors. He mentioned Ireland, for instance, and asks for a statement that Germany will not attack Ireland. Now, I have just read a speech by De Valera, the Irish Taoiseach,* in which, strangely enough, and contrary to Mr. Roosevelt’s opinion, he does not charge Germany with oppressing Ireland but he reproaches England with subjecting Ireland to continuous aggression …
In the same way, the fact has obviously escaped Mr. Roosevelt’s notice that Palestine is at present occupied not by German troops but by the English; and that the country is having its liberty restricted by the most brutal resort to force …
Nevertheless, said Hitler, he was prepared “to give each of the States named an assurance of the kind desired by Mr. Roosevelt.” But more than that! His eyes lit up.
I should not like to let this opportunity pass without giving above all to the President of the United States an assurance regarding those territories which would, after all, give him most cause for apprehension, namely the United States itself and the other States of the American continent.
I here solemnly declare that all the assertions which have been circulated in any way concerning an intended German attack or invasion on or in American territory are rank frauds and gross untruths, quite apart from the fact that such assertions, as far as the military possibilities are concerned, could have their origin only in a stupid imagination.
The Reichstag rocked with laughter; Hitler did not crack a smile, maintaining with great effect his solemn mien.
And then came the peroration—the most eloquent for German ears, I believe, he ever made.
Mr. Roosevelt! I fully understand that the vastness of your nation and the immense wealth of your country allow you to feel responsible for the history of the whole world and for the history of all nations. I, sir, am placed in a much more modest and smaller sphere …
I once took over a State which was faced by complete ruin, thanks to its trust in the promises of the rest of the world and to the bad regime of democratic governments … I have conquered chaos in Germany, re-established order and enormously increased production … developed traffic, caused mighty roads to be built and canals to be dug, called into being gigantic new factories and at the same time endeavored to further the education and culture of our people.
I have succeeded in finding useful work once more for the whole of the seven million unemployed … Not only have I united the German people politically, but I have also rearmed them. I have also endeavored to destroy sheet by sheet that treaty which in its four hundred and forty-eight articles contains the vilest oppression which peoples and human beings have ever been expected to put up with.
I have brought back to the Reich provinces stolen from us in 1919. I have led back to their native country millions of Germans who were torn away from us and were in misery … and, Mr. Roosevelt, without spilling blood and without bringing to my people, and consequently to others, the misery of war …
You, Mr. Roosevelt, have a much easier task in comparison. You became President of the United States in 1933 when I became Chancellor of the Reich. From the very outset you stepped to the head of one of the largest and wealthiest States in the world … Conditions prevailing in your country are on such a large scale that you can find time and leisure to give your attention to universal problems … Your concerns and suggestions cover a much larger and wider area than mine, because my world, Mr. Roosevelt, in which Providence has placed me and for which I am therefore obliged to work, is unfortunately much smaller, although for me it is more precious than anything else, for it is limited to my people!
I believe however that this is the way in which I can be of the most service to that for which we are all concerned, namely, the justice, well-being, progress and peace of the whole community.
In the hoodwinking of the German people, this speech was Hitler’s greatest masterpiece. But as one traveled about Europe in the proceeding days it was easy to see that, unlike a number of Hitler’s previous orations, this one no longer fooled the people or the governments abroad. In contrast to the Germans, they were able to see through the maze of deceptions. And they realized that the German Fuehrer, for all his masterful oratory, though scoring off Roosevelt, had not really answered the President’s fundamental questions: Had he finished with aggression? Would he attack Poland?
As it turned out, this was the last great peacetime public speech of Hitler’s life. The former Austrian waif had come as far in this world as was possible by the genius of his oratory. From now on he was to try to make his niche in history as a warrior.
Retiring for the summer to his mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden, Hitler did not publicly respond to the Polish answer to him which was given on May 5 in a speech by Colonel Beck to Parliament and in an official government memorandum presented to Germany on that date. The Polish statement and Beck’s speech constituted a dignified, conciliatory but also firm reply.
It is clear [it. said] that negotiations, in which one State formulates demands and the other is obliged to accept those demands unaltered, are not negotiations.