NOT SEEING THE WRITING ON THE WALL
Chamberlain did give Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe. Few ‘historical facts’ are supported by such an abundance of evidence of a direct, circumstantial and corroborating nature. This raises the question as to the reasons for which most historians have chosen not to give serious consideration to that aspect of history. I can think of two main reasons:
w Chamberlain had an alibi
w historians are reluctant, to the point of blindness, to believe that a British Prime Minister could have pursued such an unscrupulous policy.
Chamberlain’s alibi is that, in the name of Britain, he did give Poland a guarantee, thus barring for Germany the way of expansion to the east. It seemed to prove indeed that Chamberlain led Britain to war rather than allow Germany to expand freely in the East.
In the late sixties, it became known that, in December 1938, the British and French intelligence asserted, with a degree of confidence verging on certainty, that Germany had unexpectedly decided to move Westwards instead of Eastwards. The British Cabinet deliberations show that Chamberlain gave the guarantee to Poland, not to bar Hitler’s way to the East, but in the expectation the guarantee would become reciprocal. It would then ensure an eastern war-front against Germany, a prospect which, at least, would weaken Germany’s likelihood of winning the war against the West and, at best, induce Germany not to start the war in the West direction.
This being the case, the guarantee to Poland is no longer a valid alibi. However, these facts were not known prior to 1969. Till that year, most historians chose to consider the alibi to be unshakeable. Accepting the validity of the alibi left the history of the period ridden with riddles. It was not difficult to read in the minutes of the meetings between Chamberlain and Hitler, the discussion and then the granting of a free hand to the East to Germany. The memoirs of Hitler’s interpreter, whose professionalism and honesty is doubted by no one, confirm the fact. The granting of the free hand was a de-facto situation resulting from the Anglo-German Naval treaty. Many historians recognise this but argue that Britain at the time was not realising that they were doing just that.
Even before the late sixties, an historian could have reached the correct conclusions had he be willing to examine closely some documents in the French ‘Livre Jaune’ which were made public in 1939. He would have found telegrams from Coulondre, the French Ambassador to Germany, explaining that the change of the German Policy relative to Ruthenia was an indication that Germany was intending to go West instead of East. The telegram is dated March 14 and reveals that the relevant piece of news was already suspected in February 1939. The telegram itself was written more than two weeks before the granting of the guarantee to Poland.
This means that a historian could have known, already in 1939, that Germany, by allowing Hungary to annex Ruthenia, had renounced its intended invasion of Ukraine. In short, Hitler had rejected the free hand given to him by Chamberlain. He even hinted to the reason in a public speech: it would be enough that Chamberlain be later replaced by Churchill or Eden or Duff Cooper, to totally change the British attitude towards Germany. Moreover The British Case written and published by Lord Lloyd of Dolobran in 1940 with a strongly supportive preface by Halifax, does make it clear that Britain was prepared to ‘forgive’ Germany all her aggressions against the smaller nations, if only she would have not stopped to be anti-communist.
The reluctance of many historians to reach the correct conclusions was such that they refused to objectively look at the evidence. This can be illustrated by the case of F.L. Loewenheim.
Not Wanting To Read The Writing On The Wall
Francis L. Loewenheim is the editor of a book made of an introduction and a collection of documents shortened by cutting off a number of passages. The reader would naturally assume that these passages are of little importance or of much less importance than those printed.
Documents are not always quoted in their entirety. Often, the part relevant to an argument is all that is really needed, provided it is not taken out of context. However, when a document is published as reference, the editor must be very careful. Since he is not making a particular point, he should not be politically or ideologically selecting the particular passages he eliminates. To prune a document of its most revealing passages without warning the reader of their importance, is precisely what Loewenheim did, and that begs for an explanation.
I will exclude the possibility of a wilful act of deception, and take it as a fact that Loewenheim did believe he pruned away the least important parts of the document in question which we will soon consider. The point is that he published a document in which Hitler and Chamberlain were shown discussing a request by Hitler for a free hand in Eastern Europe, and he, Loewenheim, cut from the document all the passages which pointed to that discussion.
This document is a memorandum of the minutes of the first meeting between Chamberlain and Hitler at Berchtesgaden, as recorded by Dr. Paul Schmidt and printed in full in DGFB series D, vol. 2, doc. 487, pp. 786-98. This document is reproduced in a section of Loewenheim’s book titled: “The Documentary record.” Some of these records are reproduced in full. Others are preceded with the word EXTRACT. In such cases, three periods “...” indicate the places where cuts have been made.
The record No 13., pp. 21-7 is the reproduction of the German document. It is not preceded by the word EXTRACT. The original document is made of 394 lines. The first 50 lines are concerned with an exchange of greetings and compliments. We are therefore concerned with a document of 344 lines. Of these lines Loewenheim has cut 204 lines which is about 59% of the meaningful text and 52% of the whole text. In short, less than half the document is reproduced without being downgraded to be an EXTRACT.
The cut passages are 6 in number. The first cut is 62 lines long. Its text is much more important then the polite exchanges which are, nevertheless, reproduced in full. In this cut passage Hitler explains that his political freedom is restricted by the need to keep the confidence of his people. He asserts that he distinguishes well between what is now possible and what is not. It is impossible to unite all the Germans. It is not true that Germany’s appetite grew with eating. Nothing, he says, could support such an accusation. He then cites four facts that prove Germany’s good intentions. He give most of the time to one of them: the Anglo-German Naval Pact. In this respect Hitler is reported saying:
.... 2) Germany had, of her own free will, limited the strength of her fleet to a definite proportion of British Naval power. The precondition for this agreement was, of course, the mutual determination never again to make war on the other contracting party. If, therefore, Britain were to continue to make it plain that in certain circumstances she would intervene against Germany, this precondition for the Naval Agreement would cease to hold good, and it would be more honest for Germany to denounce the agreement.
On the British Prime Minister’s interpolating the question whether this denunciation would be contemplated by Germany before any possible conflict broke out, or on the actual outbreak of such a conflict, the Fuehrer replied that if Britain constantly proclaimed the possibility of intervention against Germany, while Germany herself had concluded the Naval Agreement with the intention of never again going to war with Britain, a one-sided disadvantage for Germany was bound to result, and that it would, therefore, be more sincere and more honest in such a case to terminate the treaty relationship....
The remaining of the cut passage is also interesting though not as revealing.
The third cut passage is 34 lines long and deals again with the significance of the Naval agreement. In this passage, Chamberlain concedes the correctness of Hitler’s interpretation and the relation existing between the Naval Agreement and the belief that there could be no question of war between the two countries. Chamberlain, however, wants to take into account the possibility of a changed situation. Hitler disagrees and asserts that in no circumstances war should be considered as a possibility between the two countries.
After this, the reproduced text starts with: “Mr. Chamberlain thanked the Fuhrer for his clear and frank exposition of the German attitude.” The reader is given here a false impression by the way Loewenheim presents the document. What is the German exposition alluded to by the text presented to the readers? The reader cannot know it since it has been cut. If he innocently thinks that nothing important had been cut, he concludes that Chamberlain’s thanks Hitler for having stated that the situation in Czechoslovakia is very grave. That is not the case. In reality, the complete document shows that Chamberlain is thanking Hitler for having clarified the matter of the relation between the Naval Treaty and the notion that in no circumstance could a war between the two countries be considered.
In previous chapters, we showed that this amounted in fact to a request for a free hand, and has been considered by Loewenheim of no importance, at best not as important as the polite introductory exchanges.
The 4th cut out section is 32 lines long. The reader is prevented from knowing that Chamberlain proposed to eliminate the danger perceived by Hitler that Czechoslovakia was a spearhead against Germany. This danger, according to Chamberlain’s proposal, would be eliminated if Czechoslovakia was not to help Russia were the latter to be the object of an attack and, on the other hand, Czechoslovakia (like Belgium) would be deprived of assistance from any country.
This missing section is very important. On the one hand it is demagogic. Great Britain had more than once explicitly said that she would go to war if Belgium was invaded. On the other hand, this proposal would make it easier for Germany to attack Russia. Now, even if this interpretation is not true, why should the reader not be the judge?
In the 5th section, Hitler uses an abusive language against the Czechoslovakian people calling it inferior. He said that Czechs are cowards, cruel etc.. In the absence of that section, the reader cannot possibly know that Chamberlain did not protest to such a language. It is not possible to read that section without thinking less well of a British leader listening to such language without disassociating himself from the speaker.
The other cut out sections also do not show Chamberlain in a good light. However, what has been shown in the preceding descriptions should suffice to make the point: the reading was on the wall, but Loewenheim neither wanted to read it, nor would let his readers see it.
The discussion of the Naval Treaty took an important part of the time of the two leaders who certainly had better things to do than thoroughly discussing an irrelevant matter and repeatedly coming back to it. The fact is that the matter was also mentioned in a Munich separate document bearing the sole signatures of Chamberlain and Hitler. The fact is that this document had been prepared by Chamberlain in advance and that when it was being written, Chamberlain insisted it should mention the Naval Treaty, in spite of Strang’s affirmation that Britain could not be proud of that treaty. Finally, the fact remains that Hitler denounced the Naval Treaty in April 1939 arguing that the free hand implied by it had not been respected by Britain.
Loewenheim knew all that. Nevertheless, he cuts out from the document all clues that could point to a close examination of the Anglo-Naval Treaty, while keeping the exchange of amenities between the two leaders. Loewenheim is certainly not dishonest, he is just blind to the wrongs Chamberlain has committed when these wrongs verge on evil and immorality. He sees no Chamberlain-evil, he hears of no Chamberlain-evil and will therefore not speak of Chamberlain-evil.
It illustrates how early historians, till the mid-sixties, have avoided recognising the free hand given by Chamberlain to Hitler. The case of later historians is obviously more pathetic.