The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Office of Strategic Services
Hitler Source Book
British War Blue Book
Telegrams: Sir Neville Henderson to Viscount Halifax
August 1939

[Page 32]

British War Blue Book:
Telegram Sir Neville Henderson to Viscount Halifax
dated Berlin, August [unreadable], 1939.

Two difficulties were raised last night before visit to Herr Hitler was actually arranged. In first place it was asked whether I would not be ready to wait until Herr von Ribbentrop's return. I said that I could not wait as my instructions were to hand letter myself as soon as possible. An hour or so later I was rung up again by State Secretary on the telephone asking for gist of letter and referring to publication of some private letter addressed to Herr Hitler last year. I told Baron von [unreadable] that I had no recollection of publication of any private letter last year and assured him that there was no intention of publishing this one. As regards Prime Minister's letter I said that its three main points were (1) that His Majesty's Government was determined to fulfill its obligations to Poland, (2) that they were prepared, provided a peace atmosphere was created to discuss all problems affecting our two countries, and (3) that during period of truce they would welcome direct discussions between Poland and Germany in regard to minorities.

State Secretary appeared to regard these replies as likely to be satisfactory, but deferred a final answer to 2 a.m. this morning. At that hour he telephoned me to say that arrangements made had been confirmed and that he would accompany me to Berchtesgaden, leaving Berlin at 9:30 a.m.

We arrived Salzburg soon after 11 a.m. and motored to Berchtesgaden, where I was received by Herr Hitler shortly after 1 p.m. I had derived impression that atmosphere was likely to be most unfriendly and that probability was that interview would be exceedingly brief.

In order to forestall this I began conversation by stating that I had been instructed to hand to Chancellor personally a letter from Prime Minister on behalf of His Majesty's Government, but before doing so I wished to make some preliminary remarks. I was grateful to his Excellency for receiving me so promptly as it would have been impossible for me to wait for Herr von Ribbentrop's return inasmuch as the fact was that His Majesty's Government were afraid that the situation brooked no delay. I asked his Excellency to read the [Page 33] letter, not from the point of view of the past, but from that of the present and the future. What had been done could not now be undone, and there could be no peace in Europe without Anglo-German cooperation. We had guaranteed Poland against attack and we would keep our word. Throughout the centuries of history we had never, so far as I know, broken our word. We could not do so now and remain Britain.

During the whole of this first conversation Herr Hitler was excitable and uncompromising. He made no long speeches but his language was violent and exaggerated both as regards England and Poland. He began by asserting that the Poland situation could have been settled on the most generous terms if it had not been for England's [unreadable] support. I drew attention to the inaccuracies of this statement, our

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[Page 34]

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Following is continuation of my telegram of the 23rd August

After my first talk [unreadable] I returned to Salzburg on understanding that if Herr Hitler wished to see me again I would be at his disposal, or, if he had nothing new to say, he could merely send me his reply to Prime Minister by hand.

As in the event he asked to see me,I went back to Berchtesgaden. He was quite calm the second time and never raised his voice once. Conversation lasted about 20 minutes to half an hour but produced little new, except that verbally he was far more categoric than in written reply as to his determination to attack Poland if "another German were ill-treated in Poland."

I spoke of tragedy of war and of his immense responsibility but his answer was that it would be all England's fault. I refuted this only to learn from him that England was determined to destroy and exterminate Germany. He was, he said, 50 years old: he preferred war now to when he would be 55 or 60. I told him that it was absurd to talk of extermination. Nations could not be exterminated and peaceful and prosperous Germany was a British interest. His answer was that it was England who was fighting for lesser races whereas he was fight- [Page 35] ing only for Germany: the Germans would this time fight to the last man: it would have been different in 1914 if he had been Chancellor then.

He spoke several times of his repeated offers of friendship to England and their invariable and [unreadable] reaction. I referred to Prime Minister's effort of last year and his desire for cooperation with Germany. He said that he had believed in Mr. Chamberlain's good-will at the time, but, and especially since encirclement efforts of last few months, he did so no longer. I pointed out fallacy of this view but his answer was that he was now fully convinced of the rightness of views held formerly to him by others that England and Germany could never agree.

In referring to Russian non-aggression pact he observed that it was England which had forced him into agreement with Russia. He did not seem enthusiastic over it but added that once he made agreement it would be for a long time period. (Text of agreement signed today confirms this and I shall be surprised if it is not supplemented later by something more than mere non-aggression).

I took line at end that was seemed inevitable to me if Herr Hitler persisted in direct action against Poland and expressed regret at failure of my mission in general to Berlin and my visit to him. Herr Hitler's attitude was that it was England's fault and that nothing short of complete change of her policy towards Germany could ever convince him of British desire for good relations. pp. 130-131

Telegram Sir Neville Henderson to Viscount Halifax, dated Berlin August 28, 1939

I saw the Chancellor at 10:30 this evening. He asked me to come at 10 p.m. but I sent word that I could not have the translation ready before the later hour. Herr von Ribbentrop was present, also Dr. Schmidt. Interview lasted one and a quarter hour.

2. Her Hitler began by reading the German translation. (ready before the later hour. Herr von Ribbentrop was) When he had finished, I said that I wished to make certain observations....

3. Our word was our word, and we had never and would never break it. In the old days Germany's word had the same value, and I quoted a passage from a German book (which Herr Hitler had read) about Marshal Blucher's exhortation to his troops [Page 36] when hurrying to the support of Wellington at Waterloo: "Forward, my children. I have given my word to my brother Wellington, and you cannot wish me to break it."

4. Herr Hitler at once intervened to observe that things were different 125 years ago.


6. I told Herr Hitler that he must choose between England and Poland. If he put forward immoderate demands there was no hope of a peaceful solution. Corridor was inhabited almost entirely by Poles. Herr Hitler interrupted me here by observing that this was only true because a million Germans have been drive out of that district since the war. I again said the choice lay with him. He had offered a Corridor over the Corridor in March, and I must honestly tell him that anything more that that, if that, would have no hope of acceptance. I begged him very earnestly to reflect before raising the price. He said his original offer had been contemptuously and he would not make it again. I observed that it had been made in the form of a dictate and therein lay the whole difference.

7. Herr Hitler continued to argue that Poland could never be reasonable: She had England and France behind her, and imagined that even if she were beaten she would later recover, thanks to their help, more than she might lose. He spoke of annihilating Poland. I said that reminded me of a similar talk last year of annihilation of the Czechs. He retorted that we were incapable of inducing Poland to be reasonable. I said that it was just because we remembered the experience of Czecho-Solvakia last year that we hesitated to press Poland too far today. Nevertheless, we reserved to ourselves the right to form our own judgment as to what was or what was not reasonable so far as Poland or Germany were concerned. We kept our hands free in that respect.

8. Generally speaking, Herr Hitler kept harping on Poland, and I kept on just as consistently telling Herr Hitler that he had to choose between friendship with England which we offered to him and excessive demands on Poland which would put to an end all hope of British friendship. If we were to come to an understanding it would entail sacrifices on our part. If he was not prepared to make sacrifices on his part there was nothing to be done. Herr Hitler said that he had to satisfy the demands of his people, his army was ready and eager for battle, his people were united behind him, and he would not tolerate further ill-treatment of Germans in Poland, etc.

9. It is unnecessary to recall the details of a long and earnest conversation in the course of which the only occasion in which Herr Hitler became at all excited was when I observed that it was not a question of Danzig and the Corridor, but one of our determination to resist force by force. This evoked [Page 37] a tirade about the Rhineland, Austria and Sudenten and their peaceful reacquisition by Germany. He also resented my reference to 15th March. pp. 165-168

Following are additional points in amplification of my telegram of 28th August:-- Telegram Sir Neville Henderson to Viscount Halifax, dated Berlin, August 29, 1939

Herr Hitler insisted that he was not bluffing, and that people would make a great mistake if they believed that he was. I replied that I was fully aware of the fact and that we were not bluffing either. Herr Hitler stated that he fully realized that that was not the case. In answer to a suggestion by him that Great Britain might offer something at once in the way of colonies as evidence of her good intentions, I retorted that concessions were easier of realization in a good rather than a bad atmosphere. p.169

Telegram Sir Neville Henderson to Viscount Halifax dated Berlin August 29, 1939.

Interview this evening was of a stormy character and Herr Hitler far less reasonable than yesterday. Press announcement this evening of five more Germans killed in Poland and news of Polish mobilization had obviously excited him.

2. He kept saying that he wanted British friendship more than anything in the world, but he could not sacrifice Germany's vital interests therefore, and that for His Majesty's Government to make a bargain over such a matter was an unendurable proposition. All my attempts to correct this complete misrepresentation of the case did not seem to impress him. p.179

Telegram Sir Neville Henderson to Viscount Halifax dated Berlin August 30, 1939

Your message was conveyed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs at 4 a.m. this morning. I had made similar observation to Herr Hitler yesterday evening, his reply being that one could fly from Warsaw to Berlin in one and a half hours.

4. Nevertheless if Herr Hitler is allowed to continue to have the initiative, it seems to me that result can only be either war or once again victory for him by a display of force and encouragement thereby to pursue the same course again next year or the year after. p. 180-181

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