Franz von Papen: (Ribbentrop was) a man of markedly elegant appearance, always impeccably dressed, who spoke perfect English and French. Unfortunately, these qualities did not suffice to make him a statesman. Normally, a man of his education and background could have been expected to be a success in high office. In Ribbentrop's case there were insurmountable obstacles. He was immensely industrious, but devoid of intelligence; having an incurable inferiority complex, his social qualities never matured as they should have done.
French ambassador to Berlin Robert Coulondre: Hitler launches into monologues when carried away by passion, but Herr von Ribbentrop does so when he is ice-cold. It is futile to challenge his statements; he hears you just as little as his cold, empty, moon-like eyes see you. Always speaking down to his interlocutor, always striking a pose, he delivers his well-prepared speech in a cutting voice; the rest no longer interests him; there is nothing for you to do but withdraw. There is nothing human about this German, who incidentally is good-looking, except the baser instincts.
Mussolini: Ribbentrop belongs to the category of Germans who are a disaster for their country. He talks about making war right and left, without naming an enemy or defining an objective.April 30, 1893: Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim Ribbentrop (later Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop) is born in Wesel (now in North Rhine-Westphalia); the son of a German Army officer. As a young man, he will live at various times in Grenoble, France, and London.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I came from an old family of soldiers. My mother came from the country. I went to school at Kassel and Metz in Alsace-Lorraine. There, in Alsace-Lorraine, I had my first contact with the domain of French culture; and at that time we learned to love that country dearly. In 1908 my father resigned from active military service. The reason was that there were differences at that time connected with the person of the Kaiser. My father already had a strong interest in foreign politics and also social interests, and I had a great veneration for him. At that time we moved to Switzerland and after living there for about one year I went to London as a young man, and there, for about one year, I studied, mainly languages. It was then that I had my first impression of London and of the greatness of the British Empire.
Note: The source for most items is the evidence presented to the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at the first Nuremberg Trial, between November 21, 1945 and October 1, 1946. As always, these excerpts from trial testimony should not necessarily be mistaken for fact. It should be kept in mind that they are the sometimes-desperate statements of hard-pressed defendants seeking to avoid culpability and shift responsibility from charges that, should they be found guilty, could possibly be punishable by death. (To reduce redundancy, many of the ‘vons’ have been ignored by design, with the ‘von Ribbentrop’s’ becoming simply ‘Ribbentrop's.)1910: Young Ribbentrop crosses the Atlantic, eventually settling in Ottawa, Canada where he works as a timekeeper on the reconstruction of the Quebec Bridge and the Canadian Pacific Railroad. This is followed by employment as a journalist in New York City and Boston. He will eventually become the owner of a small business, importing German wine and champagne.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: After about one year, in 1910, I went to Canada. Originally I wanted to go to the German colonies, but then I went to America instead. I wanted to see the world. I remained in Canada for several years, approximately two years as a worker, a plate layer on the railroad, and later on I turned to the bank and building trade.August 15, 1914: Following the outbreak of World War One, the patriotic Ribbentrop leaves his business in Canada and obtains passage on the Holland-America ship The Potsdam, leaving Hoboken, New Jersey for Rotterdam. As soon as he finally reaches Germany, he enlists in the 125th Regiment of the Hussars. Ribbentrop will reach the rank of first lieutenant, and be awarded the Iron Cross.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: In 1914 the first World War caught me in Canada. Like all Germans at the time we had only one thought—"Every man is needed at home and how can we help the homeland?" Then I traveled, to New York, and finally in September 1914, after some difficulties, I arrived in Germany. After serving at the front, for approximately 4 years, and after I had been wounded, I was sent to Constantinople, to Turkey, where I witnessed the collapse of Germany in the first World War. Then I had my first impression of the dreadful consequences of a lost war. The Ambassador at that time, Count Bernstorff, and the later Ambassador, Dr. Dieckhoff, were the representatives of the Reich in Turkey. They were summoned to Berlin in order to take advantage of Count Bernstorff's connections with President Wilson and to see--it was the hope of all of us--that on the strength of these Points perhaps a peace could be achieved and with it reconciliation’s.1916: After being seriously wounded, Ribbentrop is stationed in Istanbul as a staff officer. During his time in Turkey, Ribbentrop will befriend another officer, Franz von Papen.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: After some difficulties, in March 1919, I came to Berlin and I became adjutant of the then General Von Seeckt for the peace delegation at Versailles. Subsequently, when the Treaty of Versailles came, I read that document in one night and it was my impression that no government in the world could possibly sign such a document. That was my first impression of foreign policy at home. In 1919 I resigned from the Armed Forces as a first lieutenant, and I turned to the profession of a businessman. Through these business contacts, I came to know particularly England and France rather intimately during the following years. Several contacts with politicians were already established at that time. I tried to help my own country by voicing my views against Versailles. At first it was very difficult but already in the years 1919, 1920, and 1921, I found a certain amount of understanding in those countries, in my own modest way. Then, it was approximately since the years 1929 or 1930, I saw that Germany after seeming prosperity during the years 1926, 1927, and 1928 was exposed to a sudden economic upheaval and that matters went downhill very fast.September 6, 1919: From a speech by Prelate Hauser, President of the Austrian Parliament, discussing reasons to accept the harsh conditions of the Peace Treaty of St. Germain:
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I have already
mentioned the disappointment I experienced as a young officer through
personal contacts, in particular, with the German Ambassador at that time,
Dieckhoff, who is a distant relative of mine or relative by marriage, the
disappointment which in fact we all experienced in the German Armed Forces,
among the German people, and in government circles naturally even more--that
these Points of Wilson had been so quickly abandoned. I do not propose to
make a propaganda speech here. I merely want to represent the facts soberly
as I experienced them at the time. There is no doubt that the
defenselessness of the German people at that time led to the fact that
unfortunately a tendency was maintained among our enemies not toward
conciliation but toward hatred or revenge. I am convinced that this was
certainly not the intention of Wilson, at that time President of the United
States, and I myself believe that in later years, he suffered because of it.
At any rate that was my first contact with German politics. This Versailles
now became. ....
But it is known that even the severe stipulations of Versailles as we experienced them, from the closest personal observation, were not adhered to as is well known. That, too, is perhaps a consequence, an after-effect of a war, in which men drifted in a certain direction and just could not or would not adhere to certain things. It is known that the stipulations of Versailles were not observed then either territorially speaking or in other very important points. May I mention that one of the most important questions--territorial questions--at that time was Upper Silesia and particularly Memel, that small territory. The events which took place made a deep impression on me personally. Upper Silesia particularly, because I had many personal ties there,and because none of us could understand that even those severe stipulations of Versailles were not observed. It is a question of minorities which also played a very important part. Later I shall have to refer to this point more in detail, particularly in connection with the Polish crisis. But light from the beginning, German minorities, as is known, suffered very hard times. At that time it was again Upper Silesia particularly, and those territories which were involved and suffering under that problem, under that treatment. Further, the question of disarmament was naturally one of the most important points of Versailles.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: During the year 1931
and 1932, one noticed as a business man, which I was at the time, that in
practice the consequences of Versailles were such that German economic life
was becoming more and more prostrate. Then I looked around. At that time, I
was closely attached to the German People's Party and I saw how the parties
became always more and more numerous in Germany. I remember that in the end
we had something like 30 parties or more in Germany, that unemployment was
growing steadily, and that the government was losing the confidence of the
people more and more. From these years I clearly recollect the efforts made
by the then Chancellor Brüning, which were doubtlessly meant sincerely and
honestly but which nevertheless had no success. Other governments came, that
is well known. They, too, had no success.
The export trade in Germany no longer paid for itself. The gold reserves of the Reichsbank dwindled, there was tax evasion, and no confidence at all in the measures introduced by the government. That, roughly, was the picture which I saw in Germany in the year 1930 and 1931. I saw then how strikes increased, how discontented the people were, and how more and more demonstrations took place on the streets and conditions became more and more chaotic ... it was the denial of equality in all these spheres, the denial of equal rights, which made me decide that year to take a greater part in politics.
I would like to say here quite openly that at that time I often talked to French and British friends, and of course it was already a well-known fact, even then—after 1930 the NSDAP received over 100 seats in the Reichstag—that here the natural will of the German people broke through to resist this treatment, which after all meant nothing more than that they wanted to live. At the time these friends of mine spoke to me about Adolf Hitler, whom I did not know at the time, they asked me, 'What sort of a man is Adolf Hitler? What will come of it? What is it?' I said to them frankly at that time, "Give Germany a chance and you will not have Adolf Hitler. Do not give her a chance, and Adolf Hitler will come into power." That was approximately in 1930 or 1931. Germany was not given the chance, so on 30 January 1933 he came--the National Socialists seized power.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I must say that the
numerous business trips which in the years of 1920 to 1932 took me abroad
proved to me how endlessly difficult it was or would have to be under the
system which then existed to bring about a revision of the Versailles Treaty
by means of negotiations. In spite of that, I felt how from year to year the
circles grew in England and France which were convinced that somehow Germany
would have to be helped.
During those years, I established many contacts with men of the business world, of public life, of art and science, particularly in universities in England and France. I learned thereby to understand the attitude of the English and the French. I want to say now that even shortly after Versailles it was my conviction that a change of that treaty could be carried out only through an understanding with France and Britain. I also believed that only in this way could the international situation be improved and the very considerable causes of conflict existing everywhere as consequences of the first World War be removed. It was clear, therefore, that only by means of an understanding with the Western Powers, with England and France, would a revision of Versailles be possible.
Even then, I had the distinct feeling that only through such an understanding could a permanent peace in Europe really be preserved. We young officers had experienced too much at that time. And I am thinking of the Free Corps men in Silesia and all those things in the Baltic, et cetera. I should like to add, and say it quite openly, that right from the beginning, from the first day in which I saw and read the Versailles Treaty, I, as a German, felt it to be my duty to oppose it and to try to do everything so that a better treaty could take its place. It was precisely Hitler's opposition to Versailles that first brought me together with him and the National Socialist Party.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: He (Hitler) saw in
France an enemy of Germany because of the entire policy which France had
pursued with regard to Germany since the end of World War I, and especially
because of the position which she took on questions of equality of rights.
This attitude of Hitler's found expression at the time in his book Mein
Kampf. I knew France well, since for a number of years I had had connections
there. At that time I told the Führer a great deal about France. It
interested him, and I noticed that he showed an increasing interest in
French matters in the year 1933. Then I brought him together with a number
of Frenchmen, and I believe some of these visits, and perhaps also some of
my descriptions of the attitude taken by many Frenchmen, and all of French
I acquainted the Führer with an argument which sprang from my deepest conviction and my years of experience. It was a great wish of the Führer, as is well known, to come to a definitive friendship and agreement with England. At first the Führer treated this idea as something apart from Franco-German politics. I believe that at that time I succeeded in convincing the Führer that an understanding with England would be possible only by way of an understanding with France as well. That made, as I still remember very clearly from some of our conversations, a strong impression on him. He told me then that I should continue this purely personal course of mine for bringing about an understanding between Germany and France and that I should continue to report to him about these things.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I saw Adolf Hitler for
the first time on 13 August 1932 at the Berghof. Since about 1930 or 1931 I
had known Count Helldorf in Berlin, whose name as a National Socialist is
known. He was a regimental comrade of mine in my squadron, and we went
through 4 years of war together. Through him I became acquainted with
National Socialism in Berlin for the first time. I had asked him at that
time to arrange a meeting with Hitler for me. He did so that time, as far as
I remember, through the mediation of Herr Rohm. I visited Adolf Hitler and
had a long discussion with him at that time, that is to say, Adolf Hitler
explained his ideas on the situation in the summer of 1932 to me.
I then saw him again in 1933--that has already been described here by Party Member Göring—at my house at Dahlem which I placed at their disposal so that I, on my part, should do everything possible to create a national front. Adolf Hitler made a considerable impression on me even then. I noticed particularly his blue eyes in his generally dark appearance, and then, perhaps as outstanding, his detached, I should say reserved—not unapproachable, but reserved—nature, and the manner in which he expressed his thoughts. These thoughts and statements always had something final and definite about them, and they appeared to come from his innermost self. I had the impression that I was facing a man who knew what he wanted and who had an unshakable will and who was a very strong personality.
I can summarize by saying that I left that meeting with Hitler convinced that this man, if anyone, could save Germany from these great difficulties and that distress which existed at the time. I need not go further into detail about the events of that January. But I would like to tell about one episode which happened in my house in Dahlem when the question arose whether Hitler was to become Reich Chancellor or not. I know that at that time, I believe, he was offered the Vice Chancellorship and I heard with what enormous strength and conviction—if you like, also brutality and hardness—he could state his opinion when he believed that obstacles might appear which could lead to the rehabilitation and rescue of his people.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I acquainted the Führer with an argument which sprang from my deepest conviction and my years of experience. It was a great wish of the Führer, as is well known, to come to a definitive friendship and agreement with England. At first the Führer treated this idea as something apart from Franco-German politics. I believe that at that time I succeeded in convincing the Führer that an understanding with England would be possible only by way of an understanding with France as well. That made, as I still remember very clearly from some of our conversations, a strong impression on him. He told me then that I should continue this purely personal course of mine for bringing about an understanding between Germany and France and that I should continue to report to him about these things.January 30, 1933: From a telegram to Hindenburg from Ludendorff:
From The Face Of The Third Reich by Joachim C
Fest: The circumstances in which he found his way to Hitler in the
early 1930's are revealing in themselves. In response to a chance remark by
Hitler that he could not follow the foreign press because of his ignorance
of foreign languages, Ribbentrop, the wine and spirits importer was
recommended to him as a reader. Ribbentrop not only had a good knowledge of
languages but had also been the author of a political newsletter which was
sent to business contacts at home and abroad and which took a nationalist
and anti-Bolshevik line. Hitler accepted him, influenced not least by his
outward appearance as a man of the world. This was the start of a rapid rise
in a career of astounding incompetence.
For Ribbentrop, who shared Hitler's habit of indulging in great visions expressed in endless monologues, it led into those realms where the megalomaniac word loses its innocence and unexpectedly influences the destinies of nations; where self-assertive coarseness brings the reputation, not of a swashbuckler among neighbors and boon companions, but of a disturber of the peace before the bar of history. Ribbentrop evidently never grasped the difference between these two roles and confronted it during the Nuremberg trial with that same strained mien which a lifelong intellectual helplessness had forced him to adopt. He was condemned as the pot-house politician whose bombastic utterances were suddenly fulfilled as by a malevolent fairy, whose words, dictated by a hunger for self-importance, suddenly became flesh and, even more, blood.
From the sworn affidavit of Dr. Paul Otto Schmidt: Plans for annexation of Austria were a part of the Nazi program from the beginning. Italian opposition after the murder of Dollfuss temporarily forced a more careful approach to this problem, but the application of sanctions against Italy by the League, plus the rapid increase of German military strength, made safer the resumption of the Austrian program. When Goering visited Rome early in 1937 he declared that union of Austria and Germany was inevitable and could be expected sooner or later. Mussolini, hearing these words in German, remained silent, and protested only mildly when I translated them into French. The consummation of the Anschluss was essentially a Party matter, in which von Papen's role was to preserve smooth diplomatic relations on the surface while the Party used more devious ways of preparing conditions for the expected move. The speech delivered by Papen on 18 Feb. 1938, following the Berchtesgaden meeting, interpreted the Berchtesgaden agreement as the first step towards the establishment of a Central European Commonwealth under the leadership of Germany. This was generally recognized in the Foreign Office as a clear prophecy of a Greater Germany which would embrace Austria.June 18, 1935: German Minister Plenipotentiary at Large Ribbentrop negotiates the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (AGNA). Ribbentrop, who possesses a certain elan and sense of audacity, issues Sir John Simon an ultimatum. He informs Simon that if Germany's terms are not accepted in their entirety, the German delegation will go home. Simon is angry with this demand and walks out of the talks. Much to everyone's surprise, the next day, the British accept Ribbentrop's demands and the AGNA is signed in London on this day. This diplomatic victory does much to increase Ribbentrop's prestige with Hitler.
From the sworn affidavit of Dr. Paul Otto Schmidt: The attempted Putsch in Austria and the murder of Dollfuss on 25 July 1934 seriously disturbed the career personnel of the Foreign Office, because these events discredited Germany in the eyes of the world. It was common knowledge that the Putsch had been engineered by the Party, and the fact that the attempted Putsch followed so closely on the heels of the blood purge within Germany could not help but suggest the similarity of Nazi methods both in foreign and domestic policy. This concern over the repercussions of the attempted Putsch was soon heightened by a recognition of the fact that these episodes were of influence in leading to the Franco-Soviet Consultative Pact of 5 December 1934, a defensive arrangement, which was not heeded as a warning by the Nazis.August 2, 1934: Hindenburg dies.
From the IMT testimony of Margarete Blank: I met him
(Ribbentrop) at the beginning of November 1934 in Berlin, when he was
delegate for disarmament questions. .... On 1 November 1934 I was engaged as
secretary in the Ribbentrop office. His personal secretary gave notice and,
as her successor did not turn up, von Ribbentrop asked me whether I was
willing to take the post. I said "yes" and became his personal secretary on
1 February 1935. ....
As far as I can judge, Herr von Ribbentrop always showed the greatest admiration and veneration for Adolf Hitler. To enjoy the Führer's confidence, to justify it by his conduct and work was his chief aim, to which he devoted all his efforts. To achieve this aim no sacrifice was too great. In carrying out the tasks set him by the Fuehrer he showed utter disregard for his own person. When speaking of Hitler to his subordinates he did so with the greatest admiration. Appreciation of his services by the Fuehrer, as for instance the award of the Golden Party Badge of Honor, the recognition of his accomplishments in a Reichstag speech, a letter on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, full of appreciation and praise, meant to him the highest recompense for his unlimited devotion. ...
in cases of differences of opinion between himself and the Führer, Herr von Ribbentrop subordinated his own opinion to that of the Führer. Once a decision had been made by Adolf Hitler there was no more criticism afterwards. Before his subordinates Herr von Ribbentrop presented the Führer's views as if they were his own. If the Führer expressed his will, it was always equivalent to a military order. .... I attribute it first of all to Ribbentrop's view that the Führer was the only person capable of making the right political decisions.
Secondly, I attribute it to the fact that Herr von Ribbentrop, as the son of an officer and as a former officer himself, having taken the oath of allegiance to the Fuehrer, felt himself bound in loyalty and considered himself a soldier, so to say, who had to carry out orders given him, and not to criticize or change them.
From the sworn affidavit of Dr. Paul Otto Schmidt: The announcement in March of the establishment of a German Air Force and of the reintroduction of conscription was followed on 2 May 1935 by the conclusion of a mutual assistance pact between France and the Soviet Union. The career personnel of the Foreign Office regarded this as a further very serious warning as to the potential consequences of German foreign policy, but the Nazi leaders only stiffened their attitude towards the Western Powers, declaring that they were not going to be intimidated. At this time, the career officials at least expressed their reservations to the Foreign Minister, Neurath. I do not know whether or not Neurath in turn related these expressions of concern to Hitler.June 18, 1935: The Anglo-German Naval Agreement, a bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom and the German Reich regulating the size of the Kriegsmarine in relation to the Royal Navy, is signed. This is an enormous victory for Ribbentrop and Hitler, and the first large nail in the coffin he is constructing to contain the remains of Treaty of Versailles.
From the sworn affidavit of Dr. Paul Otto Schmidt: The re-entry of the German military forces into the Rhineland was preceded by Nazi diplomatic preparation in February. A German communiqué of 21 February 1936 reaffirmed that the French-Soviet Pact of Mutual Assistance was incompatible with the Locarno Treaties and the Covenant of the League. On the same day Hitler argued in an interview that no real grounds existed for conflict between Germany and France. Considered against the background statements in Mein Kampf, offensive to France, the circumstances were such as to suggest that the stage was being set for justifying some future act. I do not know how far in advance the march into the Rhineland was decided upon. I personally knew about it and discussed it approximately 2 or 3 weeks before it occurred. Considerable fear had been expressed, particularly in military circles, concerning the risks of this undertaking. Similar fears were felt by many in the Foreign Office. It was common knowledge in the Foreign Office, however, that Neurath was the only person in government circles, consulted by Hitler, who felt confident that the Rhineland could be remilitarized without armed opposition from Britain and France. Neurath's position throughout this period was one which would induce Hitler to have more faith in Neurath than in the general run of 'old school' diplomats whom Hitler tended to hold in disrespect.March 8, 1936: Germany denounces the treaty of Locarno.
From The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer: Incompetent and lazy, vain as a peacock, arrogant and without humor, Ribbentrop was the worst possible choice for such a post (ambassador to London), as Göring realized. "When I criticized Ribbentrop's qualifications to handle British problems," he later declared, "the Führer pointed out to me that Ribbentrop knew 'Lord So and So' and 'Minister So and So.' To which I replied: Yes, but the difficulty is that they know Ribbentrop."
From the IMT testimony of Margarete Blank: Von Ribbentrop, in the summer of 1936, asked the Führer to send him as ambassador to England. The Naval Agreement of 1935 was only a first step. Subsequently an air pact was contemplated, but, for reasons unknown to me, was not concluded. .... From numerous statements by Ribbentrop I know he was of the opinion that England still adhered to her traditional balance of power policy. In this his ideas were opposed to those of the Fuehrer, who was of the opinion that with the development of Russia a factor had arisen in the East which necessitated a revision of the old balance of power policy--in other words, that England had a vital interest in the steadily increasing strength of Germany. From Ribbentrop's attitude it could be inferred that he expected that in the Polish crisis the English guarantee for Poland would be honored.January 30, 1937: Hitler:
From the IMT testimony of General Erhard Milch: I had gained the impression in England that von Ribbentrop was not persona grata. I was of the opinion that another man should be sent to England to bring about mutual understanding as to policy, in accordance with the wish so often expressed by Hitler.May 1, 1937: Hitler's Germany is outraged when an Austrian official in the small hamlet of Pinkafeld hauls down a flag of the German Reich. Hitler speaks in Berlin:
From the IMT testimony of Dr. Paul Otto Schmidt (German
Foreign Office Interpreter): I had been working in the Foreign Office as
interpreter for conferences since 1923, and in this capacity I interpreted
for all foreign ministers, from Stresemann to von Ribbentrop, as well as for
a number of German Reich Chancellors such as Hermann Muller, Marx, Brüning,
Hitler, and for other cabinet members and delegates who represented Germany
at international conferences. In other words, I participated as interpreter
in all international conferences at which Germany was represented since
First I must say that at the Obersalzberg the conversation with Lord Halifax had taken a very unsatisfactory turn. The two partners could in no way come to an understanding, but in the conversation with Goering the atmosphere improved. The same points were dealt with as at Obersalzberg, the subjects which were in the foreground at the time, namely, the Anschluss, the Sudeten question, and finally the questions of the Polish Corridor and Danzig. At Obersalzberg Hitler had treated these matters rather uncompromisingly, and he had demanded more or less that a solution as he conceived it be accepted by England, whereas Goering in his discussions always attached importance to the fact or always stressed that his idea was a peaceful solution, that is to say, a solution through negotiation, and that everything should be done in this direction, and that he also believed that such a solution could be reached for all three questions if the negotiations were properly conducted.
From the sworn affidavit of Dr. Paul Otto Schmidt: Whatever
success and position I have enjoyed in the Foreign Office I owe to the fact
that I made it my business at all times to possess thorough familiarity with
the subject matter under discussion, and I endeavored to achieve intimate
knowledge of the mentality of Hitler and the other leaders. Throughout the
Hitler Regime I constantly endeavored to keep myself apprised as to what was
going on in the Foreign Office and in related organizations, and I enjoyed
such a position that it was possible to have ready access to key officials
and to key personnel in their offices. ....
The general objectives of the Nazi leadership were apparent from the start, namely, the domination of the European Continent, to be achieved, first, by the incorporation of all German-speaking groups in the Reich, and secondly, by territorial expansion under the slogan of Lebensraum. The execution of these basic objectives, however, seemed to be characterized by improvisation. Each succeeding step apparently was carried out as each new situation arose, but all consistent with the ultimate objectives mentioned above.
From the IMT testimony of Margarete Blank: Although I
was his personal secretary for 10 years, I hardly ever saw him in a
communicative mood. His time and thoughts were so completely occupied by his
work, to which he devoted himself wholeheartedly, that there was no room for
anything private. Apart from his wife and children there was nobody with
whom Von Ribbentrop was on terms of close friendship. This, however, did not
prevent him from having the welfare of his subordinates at heart and from
showing them generosity, particularly in time of need. ....
Von Ribbentrop never discussed such differences (with Hitler) with his subordinates, but I do remember distinctly that there were times when such differences surely did exist. At such times the Führer refused for weeks to receive Herr von Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop suffered physically and mentally under such a state of affairs. .... Ribbentrop often used the phrase that he was only the minister responsible for carrying out the Führer's foreign policy. By this he meant that, in formulating his policy, he was not independent. In addition, even in carrying out the directives given him by the Führer, he was to a large extent bound by instructions from Hitler. Thus, for instance, the daily reports of a purely informative nature transmitted by the liaison officer, Ambassador Hewel, between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Führer were often accompanied by requests for the Fuehrer's decision on individual questions and by draft telegrams containing instructions to the heads of missions abroad. ....
The Führer saw in the Foreign Office a body of ossified red-tape civil servants, more or less untouched by National Socialism. I gathered from men of his entourage, that he often made fun of the Foreign Office. He considered it to be the home of reaction and defeatism. .... When taking over the Foreign Office in February 1938, Herr von Ribbentrop intended to carry out a thorough reshuffle of the entire German diplomatic service. He also intended to make basic changes in the training of young diplomats. These plans did not go beyond the initial stage because of the war. In the course of the war they were taken up again when the, question of new blood for the Foreign Office became acute. Ribbentrop's anxiety to counteract the Fuehrer's animosity towards the Foreign Office led him to fill some of the posts of heads of missions abroad, not with professional diplomats, but with tried SA and SS leaders.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I do not consider the
Anschluss as an act of aggression... I consider it the realization of the
mutual purpose of both nations involved. They had always wished to be
together and the government before Adolf Hitler had already striven for
it....it was no aggression in that sense, but a union in accordance with the
right of self-determination of nations, as laid down in 1919 by the
President of the United States, Wilson. The annexation of the Sudetenland
was sanctioned by an agreement of four great powers in Munich. ....
I consider, according to the words of the Fuehrer, and I believe he was right, that it was a necessity resulting from Germany's geographical position. This position meant that the remaining part of Czechoslovakia, the part which still existed, could always be used as a kind of aircraft-carrier for attacks against Germany. The Führer therefore considered himself obliged to occupy the territory of Bohemia and Moravia, in order to protect the German Reich against air attack—the air journey from Prague to Berlin took only half an hour. The Führer told me at the time that in view of the fact that United States had declared the entire Western Hemisphere as its particular sphere of interest, that Russia was a powerful country with gigantic territories, and that England embraced the entire globe, Germany would be perfectly justified in considering so small a space as her own sphere of interest.
From the IMT testimony of Margarete Blank: At the time of the German march into Austria, Ambassador von Ribbentrop, who in February had been appointed Foreign Minister, was in London on his farewell visit. There he heard to his surprise of the Anschluss of Austria. He himself had had a different idea of a solution of the Austria question, namely an economic union.March 12, 1938 Anschluss: The German Army marches unopposed into Vienna.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: Then came the Munich
conference. I take it I need not go into the details of this conference; I
should like only to describe briefly the results of it. The Führer
explained to the statesmen, with the aid of a map, the necessity, as he saw
it, of annexing a particular part of the Sudetenland to the German Reich to
reach final satisfaction. A discussion arose; Mussolini, the Italian Chief
of Government, agreed in general with Hitler's ideas. The English Prime
Minister made at first certain reservations and also mentioned that perhaps
the details might be discussed with the Czechs, with Prague.
Daladier, the French Minister, said, as far as I recall, that he thought that since this problem had already been broached, the four great powers should make a decision here and now. In the end this opinion was shared by all the four statesmen; as a result the Munich Agreement was drawn up providing that the Sudetenland should be annexed to Germany as outlined on the maps that were on hand. The Führer was very pleased and happy about this solution, and, with regard to other versions of this matter which I have heard during the Trial here, I should like to emphasize here once more particularly that I also was happy. We all were extremely happy that in this way in this form the matter had been solved.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: The Munich Agreement is
well known. Its contents were the following: Germany and England should
never again wage war; the naval agreement on the ratio of 100 to 35 was to
be permanent and, in important matters, consultations were to be resorted
to. Through this agreement the atmosphere between Germany and England was
undoubtedly cleared up to a certain degree. It was to be expected that the
success of this pact would lead to a final understanding. The disappointment
was great when, a few days after Munich, rearmament at any cost was
announced in England.
Then England started on a policy of alliance and close relationship with France. In November 1938 trade policy measures were taken against Germany, and in December 1938 the British Colonial Secretary made a speech in which a "no" was put to any revision of the colonial question. Contact with the United States of America was also established. Our reports of that period, as I. remember them, showed an increased--I should like to say--stiffening of the English attitude toward Germany; and the impression was created in Germany of a policy which practically aimed at the encirclement of Germany.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: There had always been
the minority problem in Poland, which had caused great difficulties. Despite
the agreement of 1934, this situation had not changed. In the year 1938 the
'de-Germanization' measures against German minorities were continued by
Poland. Hitler wished to reach some clear settlement with Poland, as well as
with other countries. Therefore he charged me, I believe during October
1938, to discuss with the Polish ambassador a final clarification of the
problems existing between Germany and Poland... There were two questions:
One, the minority problem, was the most burning one; the second problem was
the question of Danzig and the Corridor, that is to say, of a connection
with East Prussia. ....
It is clear that these two questions were the problems that had caused the greatest difficulties since Versailles. Hitler had to solve these problems sooner or later one way or another. I shared this point of view. Danzig was exposed to continual pressure by the Poles; they wanted to "Polandize" Danzig more and more and by October of 1938 from 800,000 to a million Germans, I believe, had been expelled from the Corridor or had returned to Germany. ....
The Polish Ambassador was reticent at first. He did not commit himself, nor could he do so. I naturally approached him with the problem in such a way that he could discuss it at ease with his government, and did not request, so to speak, a definitive answer from him. He said that of course he saw certain difficulties with reference to Danzig, and also a corridor to East Prussia was a question which required much consideration. He was very reticent, and the discussion ended with his promise to communicate my statements, made on behalf of the German Government, to his government, and to give me an answer in the near future.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: We never really found
out the details, and we very much regretted it, as it forced us to recall
our own Ambassador in Washington, at least to call him back to make a
report. It is, however, evident that this measure was determined by the
whole attitude of the United States. Many incidents took place about that
time which gradually convinced the Fuehrer that sooner or later they would
bring the United States into the war against us. Permit me to mention a few
examples. President Roosevelt's attitude was defined for the first time in
the 'quarantine speech' which he made in 1937. The press then started an
After the ambassador was recalled the situation grew more critical and the effect began to make itself felt in every sphere of German-American relations. I believe that many documents dealing with the subject have been published in the meantime and that a number of these have been submitted by the Defense, dealing, for instance, with the attitude adopted by certain United States diplomats at the time of the Polish crisis; the cash-and-carry clause was then introduced which could benefit only Germany's enemies; the ceding of destroyers to England; the so-called Lend-Lease Bill later on; and in other fields the further advance of the United States towards Europe: The occupation of Greenland, Iceland, on the African Continent, et cetera; the aid given to Soviet Russia after the outbreak of this war. All these measures strengthened the Fuehrer's conviction that sooner or later he would certainly have to reckon with a war against America. There is no doubt that the Führer did not, in the first instance, want such a war; and I may say that I myself, as I think you will see from many of the documents submitted by the Prosecution, again and again did everything I could, in the diplomatic field, to keep the United States out of this war.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I was present at that
conversation. The result was that Adolf Hitler informed Beck, once more in
detail, of his desire for good German-Polish relations. He said that a
completely new solution would have to be found in regard to Danzig, and that
a corridor to East Prussia should not give rise to insurmountable
difficulties. During this conversation Mr. Beck was rather receptive. He
told the Fuehrer that naturally the question of Danzig was difficult because
of the mouth of the Vistula, but he would think the problem over in all its
details. He did not at all refuse to discuss this problem, but rather he
pointed out the difficulties which, due to the Polish attitude, confronted a
solution of the problem. ....
After the meeting at Berchtesgaden with the Fuehrer, I had another lengthy conversation with Beck in Munich. During this conversation Beck explained to me again that the problem was very difficult, but that he would do everything he could; he would speak to his governmental colleagues, and one would have to find a solution of some kind. On this occasion we agreed that I would pay him a return visit in Warsaw.
During this visit we also spoke about the minority question, about Danzig and the Corridor. During this conversation the matter did not progress either; Mr. Beck rather repeated the arguments why it was difficult. I told him that it was simply impossible to leave this problem, the way it was between Germany and Poland. I pointed out the great difficulties encountered by the German minorities and the undignified situation, as I should like to put it, that is, the always undignified difficulties confronting Germans who wanted to travel to East Prussia. Beck promised to help in the minority question, and also to re-examine the other questions. Then, on the following day, I spoke briefly with Marshal Smygly-Rydz, but this conversation did not lead to anything.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I saw this circular
here for the first time. Here are the facts: There was a section in the
Foreign Office which was concerned with Party matters and questions of
ideology. That department undoubtedly co-operated with the competent
departments of the Party. That was not the Foreign Office itself. I saw the
circular here. It seems to me that it is on the same lines as most of the
circulars issued at the time for the information and training of officials,
and so on. It even might possibly have gone through my office, but I think
that the fact that it was signed by a section chief and not by myself or by
the state secretary, should prove that I did not consider the circular very
important even if I did see it.
Even if it did go through my office or pass me in some other way, I certainly did not read it because in principle I did not read such long documents, but asked my assistants to give me a short summary of the contents. I may add that I received hundreds of letters in the course of the day's work, some of which were read to me, and also circulars and decrees which I signed, and many of which I did not acquaint myself with. I wish to state, however, that if one of my officials signed the circular it goes without saying that I assume full responsibility for it.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: There is no doubt that
there were relations between Slovakians and quite a number of members of the
National Socialist German Workers Party. These tendencies naturally were
known to the Foreign Office, and it would be wrong to say that we in any way
did not welcome them. But it is not correct to say that the autonomy was
demanded or forced by us in any way. I remember that Dr. Tiso proclaimed
this autonomy; and the Prague Government, under the influence of Munich,
also recognized the autonomy. What the situation was like at the time after
Munich can be seen from the fact that all minorities of Czechoslovakia
wanted autonomy and independence.
Shortly thereafter the Carpatho-Ukrainians declared their independence and others as well had similar aspirations. In the Munich Agreement, I should like to add, there was a clause according to which Germany and Italy were to give Czechoslovakia a guarantee; but a declaration to this effect was not made. The reason for that was that Poland, after the Munich Agreement, sent an ultimatum to Czechoslovakia, and on her own initiative, severed the Polish minorities and occupied these areas. The Hungarians also wanted autonomy, or rather, incorporation of Hungarian areas; and certain areas of Czechoslovakia were thereupon given to Hungary by the Vienna decision.
The situation in Czechoslovakia, however, was not yet clear and also remained difficult during the following period. Then the Slovak, Tuka, approached us. He wanted to win Germany's approval for Slovakia's independence. The Führer received Tuka at that time and, after a few interludes, the final result was the declaration of independence of Slovakia made by Tiso on 13 March. The Prosecution have submitted a document in which I am alleged to have said, during the conversation which took place between the Führer and Tiso, that it was only a matter of hours, not of days, that Slovakia would have to come to a decision.
However, this was to be understood to mean that at that time preparations for an invasion had been made by Hungary in order to occupy Carpatho-Ukrainia as well as some other regions of Slovakia. We wanted to prevent a war between Slovakia and Hungary or between Czechoslovakia and Hungary; Hitler was greatly concerned about it, and therefore he gladly complied with Tiso's desire. Later, after the declaration of Slovakia's independence by the Slovak parliament, he complied with Tiso's request and took over the protection of Slovakia.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: Events in Slovakia had
their repercussions, of course, and chiefly very strong excesses against
racial Germans in the area of Prague, Brunn, Iglau, et cetera, were reported
to Hitler. Many fugitives came into the old Reich. In the winter of 1938-39
I repeatedly attempted to discuss these matters with the Prague Government.
Hitler was convinced that a development was being initiated in Prague which
could not be tolerated by the German Reich. It was the attitude of the press
and the influential government circles in Prague. The Führer also wished
that the Czech nation should reduce her military power, but this was refused
During these months I tried repeatedly to maintain good German relations with Prague. In particular I spoke frequently with Chvalkovsky, the Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister. In the middle of March, Chvalkovsky, the Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister, turned to our German representative in Prague to find out whether Hitler would give Hacha the opportunity of a personal interview. I reported this to the Fuehrer and the Fuehrer agreed to receive Hacha; however, he told me that he wished to deal with this matter personally. To that effect I had an exchange of telegrams with Prague: A reserved attitude should be taken in Prague but Hacha should be told that the Fuehrer would receive him.
At this point I should like to mention briefly that the Foreign Office and I myself did not know anything at this date of impending military events. We learned about these things only shortly before they happened. Before the arrival of Hacha I asked the Führer whether a treaty was to be prepared. The Führer answered, as I recall distinctly, that he had the intention of going far beyond that. After the arrival of Hacha in Berlin I visited him at once and he told me he wanted to place the fate of the Czech State in the Führer's hands. I reported this to the Führer and the Führer instructed me to draft an agreement. The draft was submitted to him and corrected later on, as I remember. Hacha was then received by the Führer and the results of this conference, as far as I know, are already known here and have been submitted in documentary form so that I do not need to go into it.
I know that Adolf Hitler at that time spoke pointedly to Hacha and told him that he intended to occupy Czechoslovakia. It concerned old historic territory which he intended to take under his protection. The Czechs were to have complete autonomy and their own way of living, and he believed that the decision which was being made on that day would result in great benefit for the Czech people. While Hacha talked to the Führer, or rather afterwards--I was present at the Führer's conference with Hacha—I had, a long discussion with the Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky. He adopted our point of view fairly readily and I asked him to influence Hacha so that the Führer's decision and the whole action might be carried out without bloodshed.
I believe it was the deep impression made on him first of all by the Fuehrer and then by what Adolf Hitler had told him which caused Hacha to get in touch by telephone with his Government in Prague and also, I believe, with the Chief of the General Staff. I do not know this exactly. He obtained the approval of his Government to sign the agreement which I mentioned at the beginning. This agreement was then signed by Hitler, Hacha, and both the Foreign Ministers, that is by myself also. Then Hacha, as I recall, gave instructions that the German Army should be received cordially and, as far as I know, the march into and the occupation of Czechoslovakia, that is Bohemia and Moravia, was completed without serious incident of any kind.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: After the occupation I went to Prague with the Fuehrer. After the occupation, or maybe it was in Prague, the Führer gave me in the morning a proclamation in which the countries of Bohemia and Moravia were declared to be a protectorate of the Reich. I read out this proclamation in Prague which, I may say, was somewhat a surprise to me. No protest of any sort was made as far as I recall, and I believe I might mention that the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, which the Führer considered necessary in the ultimate interest of the Reich, took place for historical and economic reasons and above all for reasons of security for the German Reich.March 15, 1939 Proclamation of the Führer to the German people:
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I might say that after the proclamation at Prague I had a lengthy discussion with the Führer. I pointed out to the Führer that this occupation, of course, would have considerable repercussions in British-French circles. In this connection I should like to point out that in England those circles which had turned against Germany had grown larger and were led by important persons. In this connection I should like to come back to or mention briefly one incident which took place while I was still Ambassador in London, when Mr. Winston Churchill paid me a visit at the Embassy. Mr. Winston Churchill was not in the government at that time, and I believe he was not leader of the opposition-it has already been discussed—but he was one of the most outstanding personalities in England. I was especially interested in arranging a meeting between him and Adolf Hitler and therefore had asked him to come to see me at the Embassy. We had a conversation which lasted several hours and the details of which I recall exactly.March 16, 1939: From the Decree of the Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor on the Establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia:
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I called the Führer's
attention to the British reaction. Adolf Hitler explained to me the
necessity of the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, especially on historic
and strategic grounds. I remember that in this connection he quoted
especially the former French Minister of Aviation, Pierre Cot, who had
called Bohemia and Moravia, that is Czechoslovakia, the "airplane carrier"
against Germany. I believe it was Reich Marshal Göring who already
mentioned that at that time we received intelligence reports of Russian
pilots or Russian missions being on Czech airdromes.
Hitler said to me, and I remember these words distinctly, that he could not tolerate an inimical Czech thorn in the German flesh. One could get along well enough with the Czechs, but it was necessary for Germany to have in her hands the protection of these countries. He mentioned Soviet Russia, allied with Czechoslovakia, as a factor of inestimable power. When I mentioned England and her reaction he said that England was in no position to take over the protection of the Germans in Czechoslovakia.
Furthermore, the structure of the Czechoslovakian State had disintegrated and Slovakia had become independent. Therefore he thought it was necessary in the interest of future German-English relations that the countries of Bohemia and Moravia should come into a close contact with the Reich. A protectorate seemed to him to be the appropriate form. Adolf Hitler said that while this question was utterly unimportant to England it was absolutely vital for Germany. This becomes evident if one glances at the map—this is what he literally said. Besides, he said, he was unable to see how this solution could disturb the co-operation which was being striven for between Germany and England. Hitler pointed out that England—by chance I still remember the figurehead about 600 dominions, protectorates, and colonies and therefore should understand that such problems have to be solved.
I told Adolf Hitler about the difficulties which might confront Mr. Chamberlain personally because of this action on the part of Germany, that England might consider this an increase of Germany's power and so on; but the Fuehrer explained the whole question with the reasons I have mentioned before. The English reaction at first, in the person of Mr. Chamberlain in the House of Commons, was rather a positive one. He said it was not a violation of the Munich Agreement and the British Government was not bound by any obligation. The Czechoslovakian State had disintegrated and the guarantee which England had said she would give had not come into effect, or rather the obligations of the guarantee did not apply under the circumstances. I might say that all of us were glad that this attitude was taken in England.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: On the 21st I had a talk with Lipski...and in this talk Lipski expressed certain doubts concerning Slovakia and the protection afforded by Germany. He expressed the wish that between Hungary and Poland, two countries which had always had close relations with each other, a, direct, common boundary might be established and asked whether or not this would be possible. He also inquired indirectly whether the protection afforded to Slovakia was directed in any way against Poland. I assured Mr. Beck that neither Hitler nor anybody else had been motivated by the slightest intention of acting against Poland when the protection was promised. It was merely a measure to point out to Hungary that the territorial questions were now settled. However, I believe I told Mr. Lipski to look forward to such a link being established via the Carpathio-Ukraine.March 22, 1939: Hitler takes Memel from Lithuania.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: The small territory of
Memel, being the land mentioned in our National anthem, was always very dear
to the hearts of the entire German people. The military facts are well
known. It was placed under the control of the Allied Powers after the World
War I and was later seized and occupied by Lithuanian soldiers by a coup de
main. The country itself is ancient German territory, and it was natural
that it should wish to become a part of Germany once more. As early as 1938,
the Fuehrer referred to this problem in my presence as one which would have
to be solved sooner or later. In the spring of 1939 negotiations were begun
with the Lithuanian Government.
These negotiations resulted in a meeting between Urbisk, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, and myself, and an agreement was signed, by means of which the Memel territory was once more to become part of the Reich. That was in March 1939. I do not need to describe the sufferings which this region has had to endure in the past years. At any rate it was quite in accordance with the principle of the self-determination of peoples, that the will of the people of Memel was granted in 1939, and all that the agreement did, was to restore a perfectly natural state of affairs and one which would have had in any case to be established sooner or later.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: The Danzig and Corridor
problem, since 1919, had been considered by statesman of great authority the
problem with which somehow the revision of Versailles would have to start. I
should like to remind you of the statement by Marshal Foch and other
statements by Winston Churchill, who also elaborated on this subject, as
well as by Clemenceau, et cetera. All these statesmen were undoubtedly of
the opinion that a territorial revision of this Corridor would really have
to be undertaken.
But Hitler, for his part, wanted to make it an over-all settlement and reach an understanding with Poland on the basis of his putting up with the Corridor and taking only Danzig back into the Reich, whereby Poland was to be afforded a very generous solution in the economic field. That, in other words, was the basis of the proposals which I had been working on for 4 to 5 months on Hitler's order. All the greater was our surprise when, suddenly, the other side declared that a further pursuit of these plans and solutions, which we regarded as very generous, would mean war. I informed Hitler of this, and I remember very well that Hitler received it very calmly.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: The German reaction here I might refer to Hitler's Reichstag speech in which he stated his attitude toward this whole problem. We felt this pact of mutual assistance between Poland and England to be not in agreement with the German-Polish pact of 1934, for in the 1934 pact any application of force was excluded between Germany and Poland. By the new pact concluded between Poland and England without previous consultation with Germany, Poland had bound herself for example, to attack Germany in case of any conflict between Germany and England. I know that Adolf Hitler felt that it was also not in conformity with the agreements between him and Mr. Chamberlain in Munich, namely, the elimination of any resort to force between Germany and England, regardless of what might happen.April 7, 1939: Mussolini sends troops into Albania. His second conquested country after Ethiopia. This gives him access to Yugoslavia and Greece.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: It is known that between Germany and Italy friendly relations had naturally existed for a long time; and when the European situation became more acute these relations were, at Mussolini's suggestion, intensified and a pact of alliance, which was discussed first by Count Ciano and me in Milan, was drawn up and provisionally signed on the order of the Government heads. This was an answer to the efforts of English-French policy.July 13, 1939: Sigrid Schultz writes in the Chicago Tribune:
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: A quarrel had arisen between the Polish representative and the Senate of the City of Danzig. The Polish representative had sent a note to the President of the Senate informing him that certain customs officers of the Senate wanted to disobey Polish regulations. This information proved later to be false, was answered by the Senate, and led to a sharp exchange of notes between the Senate and the Polish representative. On Hitler's order I told the State Secretary of the Foreign Office to lodge appropriate protests with the Polish Government.August 12, 1939: Hitler, during a meeting with Ciano:
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: In the middle of August all sorts of things had happened which, as I should like to put it, charged the atmosphere with electricity: frontier incidents, difficulties between Danzig and Poland. On the one hand, Germany was accused of sending arms to Danzig, and, on the other hand, we accused the Poles of taking military measures in Danzig, and so on.August 21, 1939: France, unaware of Soviet-German dealings, orders its ambassador to get Russia to sign a military alliance pact at any cost. Too late. Stalin informs Hitler directly (through telegram) that he will accept Ribbentrop’s arrival for the signing of a Soviet-German non-aggression pact.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: Negotiations with
Russia had already started sometime previously. Marshal Stalin, in March
1939, delivered a speech in which he made certain hints of his desire to
have better relations with Germany. I had submitted this speech to Adolf
Hitler and asked him whether we should not try to find out whether this
suggestion had something real behind it. Hitler was at first reluctant, but
later on he became more receptive to this idea. Negotiations for a
commercial treaty were under way, and during these negotiations, with the
Führer's permission, I took soundings in Moscow as to the possibility of a
definite bridge between National Socialism and Bolshevism and whether the
interests of the two countries could not at least be made to harmonize.
On the evening of 22 August I arrived in Moscow. The reception given me by Stalin and Molotov was very friendly. We had at first a 2-hour conversation. During this conversation the entire complex of Russo-German relations was discussed. The result was, first, the mutual will of both countries to put their relations on a completely new basis. This was to be expressed in a pact of non-aggression. Secondly, the spheres of interests of the two countries were to be defined; this was done by a secret supplementary protocol.
Note: Hitler, encouraged by Ribbentrop, will remain convinced that Chamberlain is bluffing, as he will also misjudge Neville's successor.August 23, 1939: The chief of the legal department of the Foreign Office, Ambassador Dr. Gaus, participates as legal adviser in the negotiations in Moscow.
From an affidavit sworn to by Ambassador Gaus: The plane
of the Reich Foreign Minister whom I had to accompany as legal adviser in
the intended negotiations arrived in Moscow at noon on 23 August 1939. On
the afternoon of the same day the first conversation between Herr Von
Ribbentrop and Mr. Stalin took place at which, on the German side, besides
the Reich Foreign Minister, only Embassy Counsellor Hilger, as interpreter,
and perhaps also Ambassador Count Schulenburg, but not myself, were present.
The Reich Foreign Minister returned very satisfied from this long conference
and indicated that it was as good as certain that it would result in the
conclusion of the agreements desired on the part of Germany. The
continuation of the conference at which the documents to be signed were to
be discussed and completed, was scheduled for later in the evening. At this
second conference I participated personally and so did Ambassador Count
Schulenburg and Embassy Counselor Hilger. On the Russian side the
negotiations were conducted by Messrs. Stalin and Molotov, whose interpreter
was Mr. Pavlov.
An agreement on the text of the Soviet-German Non-aggression Pact was reached quickly and without difficulties. Herr Von Ribbentrop himself had inserted in the preamble to the agreement which I had drafted a rather far-reaching phrase concerning the formation of friendly German-Soviet relations to which Mr. Stalin objected with the remark that the Soviet Government could not suddenly present to the public German-Soviet assurances of friendship after they had been covered with pails of manure by the Nazi Government for 6 years. Thereupon this phrase in the preamble was deleted or rather changed.
Besides the Non-aggression Pact there were negotiations for quite some time on a separate secret document, which according to my recollection was called a "secret agreement" or "secret additional agreement" and the terms of which were aimed at a demarcation of the mutual spheres of interest in the European territories situated between the two countries. Whether the expression "spheres of interest" or other such expressions were used therein, I do not recall. In the document, Germany declared herself politically disinterested in Latvia, Estonia and Finland but considered Lithuania to be part of her sphere of influence.
Regarding the political disinterest of Germany in the two Baltic countries mentioned, controversy arose when the Reich Foreign Minister, in accordance with his instructions, wanted to have a certain part of the Baltic territory exempted from this political disinterest; this, however, was rejected on the part of the Soviets, especially on account of the ice-free ports in this territory. Because of this point, which apparently had already been discussed in Ribbentrop's first conversation, the Foreign Minister had put in a call to Hitler which came through only during the second discussion, and during which, in direct conversation with Hitler, he was authorized to accept the Soviet standpoint.
A demarcation line was laid down for the Polish territory. I cannot remember whether it was drafted on a map which was to be attached to the document or only described in the document. Moreover, an agreement was reached in regard to Poland, stating approximately that the two powers would act in mutual agreement in the final settlement of questions concerning this country. It could, however, be possible that this last agreement regarding Poland was reached only when the change of the secret agreement mentioned later in Paragraph 5 was made. Regarding the Balkan States, it was confirmed that Germany had only economic interests there. The Non-aggression Pact and the secret agreement were signed rather late that same evening.
From The Devil's Disciples by Anthony Read: While Goering was opposed to a war with the Soviets for entirely pragmatic reasons, Ribbentrop's objections were personal and emotional. He regarded the Nazi-Soviet Pact as his greatest achievement, a natural continuation of Bismarck's eastern policy, and he did not want to do anything to undermine it. Indeed, he hoped to extend it, and even to draw the Soviets into a grand alliance. His hatred for Britain was as strong as ever, and he still saw her, rather than the Soviet Union, as Germany's real enemy.August 23, 1939 Frage von Territorien: Secret Additional Protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact:
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I should like to say,
first of all, that this secret protocol has been spoken about several times
here in this Court. I talked very frankly during the negotiations with
Stalin and Molotov, and the Russian gentlemen also used plain language with
me. I described Hitler's desire that the two countries should reach a
definitive agreement, and, of course, I also spoke of the critical situation
in Europe. I told the Russian gentlemen that Germany would do everything to
settle the situation in Poland and to settle the difficulties peacefully in
order to reach a friendly agreement despite everything. However, I left no
doubt that the situation was serious and that it was possible that an armed
conflict might break out. That was clear anyway.
For both statesmen, Stalin as well as Hitler, it was a question of territories which both countries had lost after an unfortunate war. It is, therefore, wrong to look at these things from any other point of view. And just as Adolf Hitler was of the opinion which I expressed in Moscow, that in some form or other this problem would have to be solved, so also the Russian side saw clearly that this was the case. We then discussed what should be done on the part of the Germans and on the part of the Russians in the case of an armed conflict. A line of demarcation was agreed upon, as is known, in order that in the event of intolerable Polish provocation, or in the event of war, there should be a boundary, so that the German and Russian interests in the Polish theater could and would not collide. The well-known line was agreed upon along the line of the Rivers Vistula, San, and Bug in Polish territory. And it was agreed that in the case of conflict the territories lying to the west of these rivers would be the German sphere of interest, and those to the east would be the Russian sphere of interest. It is known that later, after the outbreak of the war, these zones were occupied on the one side by Germany and on the other side by Russian troops.
I may repeat that at that time I had the impression, both from Hitler and Stalin, that the territories--that these Polish territories and also the other territories which had been marked off in these spheres of interest, about which I shall speak shortly--that these were territories which both countries had lost after an unfortunate war. And both statesmen undoubtedly held the opinion that if these territories—if, I should like to say, the last chance for a reasonable solution of this problem was exhausted—there was certainly a justification for Adolf Hitler to incorporate these territories into the German Reich by some other procedure. Over and above that, it is also known that other spheres of interest were defined with reference to Finland, the Baltic States, and Bessarabia. This was a great settlement of the interest of two great powers providing for a peaceful solution as well as for solution by war...It was perfectly clear, and we were convinced of it, that if, due to the Polish attitude, a war broke out, Russia would assume a friendly attitude towards us.
From Khrushchev Remembers by Nikita Khrushchev: I believe the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 was historically inevitable, given the circumstances of the time, and that in the final analysis it was profitable for the Soviet Union. It was like a gambit in chess: if we hadn't made that move, the war would have started earlier, much to our disadvantage. It was very hard for us—as Communists, as anti-fascists—to accept the idea of joining forces with Germany. It was difficult enough for us to accept the paradox ourselves. For their part, the Germans too were using the treaty as a maneuver to win time. Their idea was to divide and conquer the nations which had united against Germany in World War I and which might united against Germany again. Hitler wanted to deal with his adversaries one at a time. He was convinced that Germany had been defeated in World war I because he tried to fight on two fronts at once. The treaty he signed with us was his way of trying to limit the coming war to one front.August 23, 1939: Hitler is delighted with the pact, and believes Stalin has just handed him the perfect opportunity to restore the Reich's "rightful possessions" without having to fight a war on two fronts. He is certain that this new treaty with the Russians will allow him to safely reclaim Danzig and take back the Polish Corridor; so certain that he tells his staff that Britain and France, without other major allies, will not go to war in such a situation... "especially over what everyone knows are, by all rights, German territories anyway."
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: As Adolf Hitler often
told me, he wanted to build up an ideal social state in Europe after the
solution of the problems which he had recognized as vital. He wanted to
erect buildings, et cetera; that was his aim. Now, the realization of these
aims defined as vital by the Führer was greatly hampered by the petrified
political system, which had been established in Europe and the world in
general. We, the Führer, and then I myself on his order—so I believe I can
be the chief witness—always tried to solve these problems through diplomatic
and peaceful channels. I brooded many nights over the League of Nations—day
and night over Paragraph 19 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, but
the difficulty was that the Führer was not in a position, or was convinced
that it was simply impossible to obtain results through negotiation—at
least, without having strong armed forces to back him up.
The mistake was, I believe, that, although Paragraph 19 was a very good paragraph of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and one which we all would have been very willing to sign and follow or one which we did sign and would have followed, no means of putting it into practice existed. That gradually created a situation in which the powers, and that is quite natural, who wanted to retain this state of petrifaction, as I might call it, or status quo, opposed any steps taken by Germany, which of course, caused reaction on the part of the Führer, until finally it reached the point, the very tragic point, where this great war began over a question like Danzig and the Corridor, which could have been solved comparatively easy.
From the IMT testimony of Margarete Blank: As far as I can judge, his (Ribbentrop's) attitude in church questions was very tolerant. To my knowledge, he left the Church already in the twenties, but in this respect he exercised no pressure or influence on his personnel or, rather, he did not bother about it at all. His tolerance went even so far that in 1935 he let his two eldest children have their wish and rejoin the Church. His tolerance in personal questions of religion was in line with his political attitude towards the Church. In this connection I remember von Ribbentrop's sending the Führer a fundamental memorandum in which he advocated a tolerant church policy. In the winter of 1944 he received Bishop Heckel to discuss church matters with him. On the occasion of a journey to Rome in 1941 or 1942, he paid a long visit to the Pope.August 24, 1939: Poland and Great Britain formally sign a treaty of mutual assistance. The British Parliament reconvenes and passes the Emergency Powers Act. Royal Assent is given on the same day and the Royal Navy is ordered to war stations. Soon afterward a general mobilization begins. Hitler predicts that the Chamberlain government will fall. President Roosevelt telegrams the President of Poland:
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I went immediately to Hitler and asked him to stop at once the military measures, whatever they were—I was not familiar with military matters in detail—and I told him that it was perfectly clear that this meant war with England and that England could never disavow her signature. The Führer reflected only a short while and then he said that was true and immediately called his military adjutant, and I believe it was Field Marshal Keitel who came, in order to call together the generals and stop the military measures which had been started. On this occasion he made a remark that we had received two pieces of bad news on one day. That was Italy and this news, and I thought it was possible that the report about Italy's attitude had become known in London immediately, whereupon the final ratification of this pact had taken place. I still remember this remark of the Führer's very distinctly.August 25, 1939: Hitler meets with British Ambassador Henderson. Hitler makes hollow offer of peace with Britain, in an effort to "buy" Britain's neutrality as it did the Soviet's. German troops begin movement towards Poland.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: On 25 August I was
informed about the conversation which the Fuehrer had had with Ambassador
Henderson during my absence from Germany, I believe at Berchtesgaden on 22
August. This was a very serious conversation. Henderson had brought over a
letter from the British Prime Minister which stated clearly that a war
between Germany and Poland would draw England into the picture. Then, early
on the 25th I—the Führer then answered this letter, I believe on the same
day—and the answer was couched so as to mean that at the moment a solution
by diplomatic means could not be expected. I discussed with the Führer on
the 25th this exchange of letters and asked him to consider this question
once more and suggested that one more attempt might be made with reference
to England. This was 25 August, a very eventful day.
In the morning a communication came from the Italian Government, according to which Italy, in the case of a conflict over Poland, would not stand at Germany's side. The Führer decided then to receive Ambassador Henderson once more in the course of that day. This meeting took place at about noon of the 25th. I was present. The Führer went into details and asked Henderson once more to bear in mind his urgent desire to reach an understanding with England. He described to him the very difficult situation with Poland and asked him, I believe, to take a plane and fly back to England in order to discuss this whole situation once more with the British Government. Ambassador Henderson agreed to this and I sent him, I believe in the course of the afternoon, a memo or a note verbal in which the Führer put in writing his ideas for such an understanding, or rather what he had said during the meeting, so that the ambassador would be able to inform his government correctly. ....
During the course of the afternoon—I heard in the course of the day that certain military measures were being taken and then in the afternoon I received, I believe, a Reuters dispatch, at any rate it was a press dispatch—saying that the Polish-British Pact of Alliance had been ratified in London. I believe there was even a note appended that the Polish Ambassador Raczynski had been sick but had nevertheless suddenly given his signature in the Foreign Office. ....
This treaty was undoubtedly concluded afterwards. Of course, I do not know the hour and the day, but I believe it must have been on the afternoon of 25 August, and Italy's refusal had already reached us by noon; I believe in other words, it had undoubtedly been definitively decided in Rome in the morning or on the day before.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I should like to say in
this connection, that in view of the critical situation between Poland and
Germany, which, of course, was also known to the British Ambassador, Hitler
expressed to me a certain disappointment that the British Ambassador had not
returned more quickly with his answer, for the atmosphere was charged with
electricity on that day. On the 28th, Henderson then had another discussion
with the Führer. I was also present. The answer brought back by Sir Neville
Henderson from London appeared at first not very satisfactory to the
Fuehrer. It contained various points which seemed unclear to the Führer.
But the main point was that England announced her readiness for a wholesale solution of the existing problems between Germany and England, on the condition that the German-Polish question could be brought to a peaceful solution. In the discussion Adolf Hitler told Sir Neville Henderson that he would examine the note and would then ask him to come back ... the English suggested that German-Polish direct negotiations would be the most appropriate way to reach a solution and, secondly, that such negotiations should take place as soon as possible, because England had to admit that the situation was very tense because of the frontier incidents and in every respect. Furthermore the note stated that no matter what solution might be found—I believe this was in the note—it should be guaranteed by the great powers.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: ...during the meeting on the 29th Ambassador Henderson, as I recall, asked the Führer whether this was an ultimatum. The Führer answered "No," that that was not an ultimatum, but rather, I believe he said, a practical proposal or a proposal arising from the situation, or something of that sort. I should like to repeat that it was a fact that the situation near the frontiers of Danzig and the Corridor during the last days of August looked, one might say, as if the guns would go off on their own unless something was done rather soon. That was the reason for the relatively short respite which was made a condition by the Führer. He feared that if more time were allowed, matters would drag out and danger of war not decrease but rather increase.August 30, 1939: Unofficial peace envoy Birger Dahlerus continues his shuttle diplomacy:
From the IMT testimony of Dr. Paul Otto Schmidt: I took
part in (the August 30) conference as interpreter and recorder. Ambassador
Henderson's knowledge of German was rather good, but not perfect. Hence it
could happen that in moments of excitement he did not quite understand
certain points, as is proved by an incident which occurred during the
conference just mentioned; and it was not always easy for him to express
himself in German; but when speaking to Germans he usually preferred to
conduct these discussions in German. .... You cannot tell what goes on
inside a person's mind, but I doubt whether he understood the document in
all its details...while reading out the document the Foreign Minister now
and then commented to Henderson about some points which might not have been
quite clear. Sir Neville Henderson sat and listened to the document being
read out and the comments which were made. ....
The atmosphere during that conference was, I think I can say, somewhat charged with electricity. Both participants were extremely nervous. Henderson was very uneasy; and never before, and perhaps only once afterwards, have I seen the Foreign Minister so nervous as he was during that conference. An incident which occurred during the first part of the discussion can perhaps serve to illustrate the atmosphere. The matter under discussion was the specifying of all the points Germany had against Poland and her government, and the Foreign Minister had done that in all details and concluded with the words: "So you see, Sir Neville Henderson, the situation is damned serious." When Sir Neville Henderson heard those words, "damned serious" he started up, half raised himself and pointing a warning finger at the Foreign Minister said: "You have just said 'damned.' That is not the language of a statesman in so serious a situation." .... The Foreign Minister merely said that he could receive the Polish Ambassador for negotiations or discussions only if he came to him with the necessary authority to negotiate. (Ambassador Lipski) answered a question respecting this, put to him by the Foreign Minister when Ambassador Lipski was with him with an emphatic "no." He said he had no authority. ....
When Henderson requested that the document containing the German proposals be submitted to him, the Foreign Minister said: "No, I cannot give you the document." These are the words he used. This of course was a somewhat unusual procedure because normally Sir Neville Henderson had the right to expect that a document which had just been read out would be handed to him. I myself was rather surprised at the Foreign Minister's answer and looked up because I thought I had misunderstood. I looked at the Foreign Minister and heard him say for the second time: "I cannot give you the document." But I saw that this matter caused him some discomfort and that he must have been aware of the rather difficult position in which he found himself by this answer, because an uneasy smile played on his lips when he said in a quiet voice to Sir Neville Henderson these words, "I cannot give you the document."
Then I looked at Sir Neville Henderson as I of course expected him to ask me to translate the document, but this request was not forthcoming. I looked at Henderson rather invitingly, since I wanted to translate the document, knowing how extraordinarily important a quick and complete transmission of its contents to the British Government was. If I had been asked to translate I would have done so quite slowly, almost at dictation speed, in order to enable the British Ambassador in this roundabout way to take down not merely the general outline of the German proposal but all its details and transmit them to his Government. But Sir Neville Henderson did not react even to my glance so that the discussion soon came to an end and events took their course.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: On the 30th Hitler
awaited word from the Polish negotiator. This, however, did not come, but, I
believe, on the evening of the 30th the news arrived that Poland had
ordered, although not announced, general mobilization. I believe it was not
announced until the next morning. This, of course, further aggravated the
situation enormously. ....
In the meantime, Hitler had prepared the proposals which he wanted to hand to a Polish negotiator who, as he had expressly promised Sir Neville Henderson, would be able to negotiate with Germany on the basis of complete equality. Not until shortly before midnight, or at least in the late evening, a call came through saying that the British Ambassador wanted to transmit a communication from his government. This meeting, I believe, was then postponed once more; at any rate at midnight on 30 August the well-known conversation between Henderson and me took place. ....
It is perfectly clear that at that moment all of us were nervous, that is true. The British Ambassador was nervous and so was I. I should like to and must mention here the fact that the British Ambassador had had on the day before a minor scene with the Fuehrer which might have ended seriously. I succeeded in changing the subject. Therefore, there was also a certain tension between the British Ambassador and myself. However, I intentionally received the British Ambassador composedly and calmly, and accepted his communication. I hoped that this communication would, In the last moment, contain his announcement of a Polish negotiator. However, this did not happen. Rather, Sir Neville Henderson told me:
1. That his government could not recommend this mode of procedure, despite the tense situation, which had been aggravated still more by the Polish total mobilization; rather the British Government recommended that the German Government use diplomatic channels;
2. That, if the German Government would submit the same proposals to the British Government, the British Government would be ready to exert their influence in Warsaw in order to find a solution, as far as these suggestions appeared to be reasonable. In view of the whole situation this was a very difficult answer because, as I said, the situation was extremely tense and the Fuehrer had been waiting since the day before for a Polish emissary. I, in turn, feared also that the guns would go off by themselves unless a solution or something else came quickly, as I have said. I then read to Henderson the proposals given to me by the Führer.
I should like to state here once more under oath that the Fuehrer had expressly forbidden me to let these proposals out of my hands. He told me that I might communicate to the British Ambassador only the substance of them, if I thought it advisable. I did a little more than that; I read all the proposals, from the beginning to the end, to the British Ambassador. I did this because I still hoped that the British Government wanted to exert their influence in Warsaw and assist in a solution. But here too I must state frankly that from my talk with the British Ambassador on 30 August, from his whole attitude, which Minister Schmidt also described to a certain extent yesterday, as well as from the substance of the communication of the British Government, I got the impression that England at this moment was not quite prepared to live up to the situation and, let us say, to do her utmost to bring about a peaceful solution. ....
After my conversation with the British Ambassador I reported to the Fuehrer. I told him it had been a serious conversation. I told him also that in pursuance of his instructions I had not handed the memorandum to Sir Neville Henderson despite the latter's request. But I had the impression that the situation was serious and I was convinced that the British guarantee to Poland was in force. That had been my very definite impression from this conversation.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: Then, in the course of
the 31st the Führer waited the whole day to see whether or not some sort of
Polish negotiator would come or whether a new communication would come from
the British Government. We have heard here about Reich Marshal Göring's
intervention, how he informed Mr. Dahlerus of the contents of this note in
every detail. There can thus be no doubt that during the course of that
night, at the latest in the morning of the 31st the precise proposals of the
Reich Government were in the hands of both the London Government and the
On the 31st the Führer waited the whole day and I am convinced, and I want to state it very clearly here, that he hoped that something would be done by England. Then in the course of the 31st the Polish Ambassador came to see me. But it is known that he had no authority to do anything, to enter into negotiations or even to receive proposals of any sort. I do not know whether the Führer would have authorized me on the 31st to hand proposals of this sort to him, but I think it is possible. But the Polish Ambassador was not authorized to receive them, as he expressly told me.
From Ribbentrop's IMT Testimony: I know only that the
Führer—that the proposals which I had read to the British Ambassador in
the night of the 30th were published by broadcast, as I believe, on the
evening of the 31st. The reaction of the Warsaw radio, I remember this
reaction exactly, was unfortunately such as to sound like a veritable
battle-cry in answer to the German proposals which, as I heard, had been
characterized by Henderson as reasonable. I believe they were characterized
by the Polish radio as an insolence, and the Germans were spoken of as Huns
or the like.
I still remember that. At any rate, shortly after the announcement of these proposals a very sharp negative answer came from Warsaw. I assume that it was the answer which persuaded the Führer in the night of the 31st to issue the order to march. I, for my part, can say only that I went to the Reich Chancellery, and the Fuehrer told me that he had given the order and that nothing else could be done now, or something to this effect, and that things were now in motion. Thereupon I said to the Fuehrer merely, "I wish you good luck." I might also mention that the outbreak of these hostilities was the end of years of efforts on the part of Adolf Hitler to bring about friendship with England.
[For Part Two, Click here.] Twitter: @3rdReichStudies E-MAIL
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