Tuesday, May 5, 2015
ADSS 1.29 Orsenigo to Maglione - Meeting with Hitler
ADSS 1.29 Cesare Orsenigo, Germany to Luigi Maglione, Sec State
Reference: Report 27,234 (AES 2498/39)
Location and date: Berlin, 06.05.1939.
Summary statement: Observations of the Nuncio: Hitler does not believe there is immediate danger of war either between Germany and Poland or Italy and France; discussed the agreement between Germany and Italy; Hitler’s trip to Italy. Meeting with Joachim Ribbentrop.
I hasten to report to your Eminence some details of the conversation had yesterday with the Chancellor at Berchtesgaden, the substance of it was given in my coded telegram number 322 of this morning. (1)
From the preliminaries top this meeting, and from the conversation I had on Thursday evening in Berlin with the Foreign Minister, I had the impression that the Government thought in the beginning that I had been instructed to talk about the internal religious situation in Germany; in fact I had requested an audience without stating the purpose. Once reassured that the object was about international affairs, the Government granted the audience at once, trying even to make it as easy as possible. A special aeroplane was put at my my disposal, and I went from Berlin to Salzburg in two hours and a half, from there I was comfortably transported to the Chancellor’s residence with a short stop for luncheon in Berchtesgaden at the Grand Hotel.
The meeting with the Chancellor took place at 4pm and lasted until 5pm; at the end the Chancellor offered me tea. Mr Ribbentrop, the Foreign Minister, who was on his way to Italy, broke his journey at Berchtesgaden to be present during the talks.
As soon as I explained the purpose of my visit, the Chancellor, who has listened with deference, expressed his thanks to His Holiness for his courtesy and interest, asking me to convey his feelings of gratitude to the Holy Father. He added then that his ties with Italy were so close that he could no pronounce his own views without first knowing Signor Mussolini’s thoughts; he felt strongly bound to him also for any future event.
After this promise, he added this official reply, delivered almost in the tone of a simply friendly conversation.
“I do not, however, see the danger of a war. I do not see it regarding Italy and France, because Mussolini’s claims (and he mentioned them: Tunis, Suez Canal Djibouti), which I rind reasonable and support in full, are not such that they could lead to a war, but only to negotiations”.
“As far as I am concerned – he continued – I have not made any claim on France, against which, however, I have impregnable fortifications; I have not made any claim on Great Britain, except the one regarding the colonies, and I have already declared that it will be a cause of war. Regarding Poland I have renounced the 1934 Treaty, not because my claims have been refused, but only because our reciprocal position has changed after England’s intervention. But this does not mean that I shall wage a war. In fact, as far as Danzig is concerned, this is a free city, under the League of Nations; we can discuss and negotiate regarding the Danzig State but it is not inevitable that we should reach a state or war. Regarding my other claims, they will come to maturity in time, in 1942, 1943 or maybe in 1945; I can wait. I do not see any reason for a war, unless the Polish people lose their heads and their claims are forced, such as the one that the Polish border should reach the Elbe. Everything depends on the calm and serenity of judgement of Poland”.
Speaking then of his periodical rest amidst the green of the mountains and praising it as a wonderful remedy against the enervation of city life, he suggested that before having a conference all these Heads of State or of Government – who appear to be in such a state of exceptional excitement – should have a period of spiritual rest.
The Chancellor then delivered an indictment against Great Britain, which, under the appearance of wishing and promoting peace between the nations, pushes them to war, as Britain did – he said – by inciting the Negus against Italy, and in Spain by instigating the Reds to resist Franco, and in China, where an agreement between Japan and the Generalissimo would have been possible, and in Czechoslovakia after the Munich Treaty; ad at this point the Chancellor censured the behaviour of the Military Attaché to the British Embassy in Berlin who conspired with the British Minister in Prague for this purpose – just as Britain is doing now in Poland, disturbing possible negotiations and encouraging war.
I listened in silence to what the Chancellor was saying; but, I beg leave to point out the following.
I consideration of the growing tension between Germany and Poland and the attitude of the Polish people, which as “seen through the Berlin newspapers” is made to appear as a continuous provocation, I myself would not dare to accept the Chancellor’s optimistic outlook or believe the sincerity of the forecast. I think however, that if Poland would calm down and be silent, without, for the time being, giving in on any point, the motive for a war, at least for the moment, would be set aside; by gaining in time in this way it would be possible to start dispassionate negotiations, especially regarding an extra-territorial motorway thought he “Polish corridor to allow direct communications between the two German territories”.
The Chancellor stated that he was not afraid of Poland, that he did not want to attack it “unless forced by ill-advised Polish provocations”, and he was very well protected by defensive works and he was increasing such protection on his Eastern borders.
While tea was served he recalled his trip to Rome, praised the Italian artistic beauty and took this occasion to exalt the merits of Mussolini and Fascism, noting that without him all these artistic treasuries would not be heaps of ruins, as had happened in many places in Spain. He said that Mussolini deserved the gratitude of all Europe; without his courageous stand probably the others would have faltered and now we would have a Bolshevik empire; then he added with force: “I have no treaty of alliance with Italy but if Mussolini went to war, my armies at once, I say at once, would be at the side of the Italian armies”. (2)
Speaking of Rome, he was pleased to hear that the Holy Father speaks German and expressed his sorrow for not having seen, during his stay in Rome last year, the Basilica of St Peter. (3)
On Thursday evening the Foreign Minister, who appears to have a growing influence on the Chancellor’s thought, had read to me with great complacency a report dated 25 April last, from the German Embassy to the Vatican, in which were related a few flattering – and he remarked also “new” – words of the Holy Father addressed to Germany and to its revival. The Minister added that he had noted that on Hitler’s birthday prayers were said in the Catholic churches in Germany, and all these respectful manifestations towards the Head of the State did not go unobserved and certainly they will make good impression also on the Fuhrer himself. And, although he pointed out that the times were not yet ripe for starting a detailed conversation on the slight disagreement existing between State and Church, he believed that such a time was approaching. Unfortunately, on account of the dictatorial inclination of such men, they are rather susceptible to any slight manifestation of praise and benevolence.
(1) ADSS 1.28.
(2) Compare the Nuncio’s report with the statement of the Embassy Counsellor Hewel: Report on the visit of the Papal Nuncio to the Fuhrer and Chancellor at the Berghof on 05.05.1939 in the presence of the Foreign Minister and V.I.R. Hewell. DGFP, Series D, Volume 6, n331, pp352-54.
(3) Hitler visited Rome in May 1938. Pius XI left the Vatican for Castelgandolfo and ordered the Vatican museums to close for the duration of Hitler’s visit. The snub left Mussolini in a rage against “the old man”. With this reference to his visit to Rome, Hitler wanted to steer the conversation towards the question of the relations between the Church and the Reich. See DGFP, Series D, Volume 6, n331, p354.