FAILURE OF A MISSION Berlin 1937-1939 Hardcover – 1940
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Failure of a Mission
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The basis for this view is not quite clear because, at the time, the only German move which might have warranted such an attitude was the German reoccupation of the demilitarized part of the German Rhineland in 1936 and it had not encountered any military opposition on the part of the victors of WW1. Besides, a year earlier, Britain had concluded a naval agreement with Germany – a clear violation of the Versailles Treaty – which allowed the latter to build up a naval force equal to roughly one third the tonnage of the British navy and the German execution of that agreement had not, in any way, given rise to British criticism. Hence, the only way to interpret Chamberlains attitude was that war with Germany was already a foregone conclusion in 1937 and only more time was needed for Britain to rearm and to find allies for such a war, especially on the other side of the Atlantic.
The curious fact that Henderson’s book (and its German version!) appeared in early 1940, during the lull after the German victory over Poland, but before the Blitzkrieg in the West, hence at a time when the situation in Europe was still very fragile and it was not yet certain what would later be put at Hitler’s feet, requires the reader to be very careful in his interpretation of the text, particularly so as the author shows much sympathy for the Germans in general and some German politicians in particular; he also has much praise for a number of German political measures, such as the compulsory physical work imposed on the younger Germans – Henderson regards this as a suitable measure for improving public health and a better comprehension between the various classes of the population. He also cites the “Strength through joy” (KdF) movement and the various activities - both national and international – it entailed.
Among the German politicians he perceives many honorable idealists with laudable political aims and even includes the early Hitler in this category. He cautions his British colleagues against adopting an attitude of qualifying all Nazis as gangsters and underscores that Britain had not always been fair in its treatment of Germany. Obviously, he has a very negative view of Himmler and the Gestapo, but he also cites Goering who pointed to the fact that concentration camps had been invented by the British during the Boer war.
It is somewhat amusing, for today’s readers, that the author attempts to explain “the sadistic trait of Britain’s teutonic cousins” by the considerable admixture of Slavic genes in the German blood. On the other hand, Henderson is very explicit in ascribing Hitler’s rise to the vengeful character of the Versailles Treaty and says that this document called for considerable corrections in this respect. He writes that Versailles brought about “a peace, but not peace” and identifies the basic mistake to have been the refusal to accord the Germans the same degree of autonomy that had been given to the Poles, the Czechs or the Hungarians. In Henderson’s view, the Austrians and the Sudeten Germans should have been allowed to join the Reich as they had desired, but this right had ben refused because, after all, one of the objectives of the war against Germany had been to weaken her.
After discussing Goering and Goering’s family (whom he rather appreciated) and the manipulations which allowed Hitler to establish his grip on the rather prudent and conservative German army, as well as some changes within the German Foreign Office, which resulted in Ribbentrop becoming Foreign Minister, Henderson discusses the German-Austrian unification. Again, he believes that such a move had not been planned by the German side and accuses the Austrian Chancellor, Schuschnigg, of having made a number of wrong moves which, in the end, resulted in Hitler’s military entry into Austria whereas he would have preferred peaceful means.
Unfortunately, the “Anschluss” of what remained of the Austro-Hungarian empire, caused alarm in the West and fostered the belief that this might also happen in the case of Czechoslovakia with its large German minority. The CSR, according to Henderson, was an unnatural creation conceived at Versailles which retained all the racial problems that had brought about the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian empire and was bound to fall to pieces sooner or later, all the more so, as many of its minorities lived in areas bordering on their motherlands.
Henderson explains that the basic mistake made by the Prague government had been to disregard the idea, laid into its cradle, that the country was to operate as a federation rather than as a state governed by its Czech constituency. Hitler had recognized the fragility of this political entity but, according to Henderson, he was in no hurry. Once again, he profited from the political mistakes of his adversaries. In this case it was the false alarm sounded by Prague which accused Germany of massing its troops on the northern frontier of the CSR, ready to attack. The western media were only to happy to spread this rumor, which Henderson, having sent British military experts into the area concerned, soon dismantled, but Prague was proud to announce that only the partial mobilization of its army had discouraged Hitler from advancing into the CSR. Hitler’s only reaction, Henderson tells us, was not German moblization but the construction of a fortified line in the West – not really anything to write home about.
This confusion encouraged Prague to assume a very tough position with respect to the German demands concerning the Sudeten lands, even going so far as to establish martial law in that area. At the same time, the Slovak and the Hungarian minorities became restless and claimed independence. Mussolini’s intervention and his call for an international conference defused this highly dangerous constellation and brough about, in late September of 1938, a meeting at Munich of the heads of state of Britain, France, Germany and Italy which agreed on the transfer of the Sudetenlands to Germany in the weeks to follow. Henderson is quite explicit in saying that these areas should never have been included in the CSR in the first place. He also states that in spite of this peaceful solution of the crisis, Britain beefed up her military strength; Henderson feels that possibly, Hitler would have accepted a small war to accomplish his aims but would certainly have refrained from anything more than that. Hitler, on the other hand, had premonitions concerning British policy and predicted that Chamberlain, in spite of his success at Munich, would probably be replaced some time soon by the more adventurous Churchill – something which took place after the publication of Henderson’s book. Within weeks after Munich, the British parliament voted for an increase of the miltary budget by 150 million pounds.
No sooner had the Czech crisis been solved than difficulties arose in respect of Poland. Poland had not only used the opportunity afforded by the Munich conference to send its army into the Teschen area - belonging to the CSR but largely inhabited by Poles – and annexing it, but had also yet again put pressure on its Jewish minority by requiring Poles (in this case mostly Jews) who lived abroad to renew their passports in Poland itself, something which was practically impossible for many of the people concerned. At the time, some 70 000 Polish Jews were living in Germany. The German government deported some 20 000 members of this group to the Polish border, but at various locations the Polish border guards refused to let them pass thus forcing them to spend days in the no-man’s-land in very difficult circumstances.
This happened to the parents of a young Pole, Herschel Grynszpan, living in Paris at the time, whereupon Herschel marched into the German embassy and shot a German official. For some Nazi functionaries this was a most welcome event and they carried out the infamous pogrom known as the “night of the broken glass”. Henderson obviously condemns this event (as did many Germans at the time) but also shows some understanding for the German side that, he writes, may have feared that more such murders might follow unless Germany reacted strongly.
During the winter months, the unrest in Czechoslovakia continued to grow. Slovakia in particular called for more independence which caused the government in Prague to send troops into the province and to install a new provincial government – a mistake, Henderson tells us. One day later, on 11 March 1938, Tiso, the deposed Slovakian prime minister, approached Berlin for help and made his province a German protectorate. Henderson then suggested to the Czech ambassador at Berlin that the Czech government get in touch with Hitler as well; Prague reacted positively and delegated not only the Foreign Minister, Chvalkovsky, but also the new president, Hacha – an indication that Prague was ready to conclude an agreement on the spot. On 15 March 1938, the negotiations resulted in the creation of another German protectorate, covering the lands of Bohemia and Moravia.
Henderson believes that the seizure of this part of Czechoslovakia was not based on a strategic German plan and sets out a number of reasons to support his thesis; he also states that if Hacha had really felt that he had been forced to accept a solution with which he could not identify, he could have stepped down; instead, Hacha stayed at his post until the end of WW2. Henderson criticizes the creation of the Protectorate because Hitler reaped world-wide criticism; at the same time he speaks of a German annexation of the provinces involved, but this term is not really applicable in this case, because the Protectorate was never integrated into the Reich – it maintained its own administration, its own currency, even its own army. The inhabitants did not have to do military service for Germany, and Germans needed a visa to enter the area.
If there was a case of true aggression and annexation, it was Poland’s move into Czechoslovakia during the Munich conference and the seizure of the Teschen area with its mostly Polish speaking inhabitants, but this is now largely forgotten, as is Germany’s hand-over of the easternmost part of the Sudetenlands to Poland in late 1938 – Warsaw had pointed out to Berlin that the railway hub of Bohumin/Oderberg was vital to Poland. Berlin maintained a right of passage against payment of a fee.
In early 1939, there were only two unresolved questions on the central European chessboard: the status of the formerly German city of Memel, now part of Lithuania, on the one hand, and the future of the city of Danzig and German rights of passage through the Polish corridor, on the other. Lithuania ceded Memel to Germany, but, while discussions with Poland had been going on for some time, Warsaw, in mid-March, refused further negotiations, going so far as to label future German demands concerning Danzig a cause of war. A few days later, Warsaw undertook a partial mobilization of its troops, and on 31st March, London issued a one-sided guarantee to Poland, worded in such a way that the Polish government could, at any time, involve Britain in a war with Germany.
On p. 227 of his book, Henderson states clearly that, at the time, neither Britain nor France would have been able to help Poland in any way in a war with Germany, which means, in so many words, that Britain was thinking in terms of a long war which would eventually involve other powers as well, such as the USA or the Soviet Union. At the same time, Henderson says that “the corridor and Danzig were a real German national grievance and some equitable settlement had to be found” but he does not say how London could achieve this in the light of the totally uncooperative Polish attitude.
Thus, the summer of 1939 passed away without any useful result, even after Germany, in mid-August had secured Soviet support, making it obvious to Poland that its opposition to a pratical solution of the problems no longer made sense. Europe was heading for an abyss, in spite of hasty diplomatic moves aimed at keeping the situation from going completely out of hand. Germany even went so far as to stop its march into Poland for a week in late August, thus underlining its willingness to prevent an all-out war, but to no avail: the British side, on 25 August, concluded a formal agreement with Poland thus flipping a further switch on the road to war. The horror could not be stopped.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I give 3 stars because he seems to constantly make excuses and contradictions. He admits what Germanys aims were from an early stage, and points out the good points that top National Socialists made, without giving any rebuttals other than a general line of "Britain doesn't like some of their methods."
For example, he talks about how the Anschluss with Austria was a negative thing from the British point of view but admits that should Britain go to war the majority of Austrians would side with Germany anyway. This is a recurring theme throughout and seems to indicate that the German view of Britain simply not wanting a strong Germany was the motive rather than "National sovereignity" of Central/Eastern Europe.
Britain did not care about the National sovereignity of their Colonies, including the Irish who they had blood relations with. Simply put the Author tries to paint himself as Pro-British but with an Objective viewpoint, which is false and is indicated throughout the book.
On the Goodside it was a very interesting perspective from someone who had actually met with top National Socialists including Hitler himself, and a must read for anyone wanting to see the British justification of declaring war on Germany and turning a border dispute into WW2.
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