Sunday, April 10, 2016

August 22, 1939: Hitler Tips His Hand

Tuesday 22 August 1939

Berghof August 22 1939
Hitler at lunch at the Berghof with his General on 22 August 1939. They are in civilian clothes to disguise the true nature of the day's agenda. After this, military garb will be the norm at the Berghof.
German Military Planning: With prospects for a deal with the Soviet Union rushing to a satisfactory conclusion, on Tuesday, 22 August 1939 Adolf Hitler holds a meeting for his fifty top military leaders at the Berghof. Attendees include the usual suspects: Luftwaffe boss Hermann Goering, General Erich von Manstein, and so forth.

There are three different known sources of notes for the speech that day. They apparently were taken by Abwehr (military intelligence), chief Vice-Admiral Canaris. Others at the meeting only jotted down random notes, but Canaris' full set found their way into the files at Heer headquarters at Zossen. The note versions differ only in details. In essence, Hitler gives a ninety-minute oration in which he sets forth his resolve to "smash Poland," a decision he claimed he had made the previous spring.

A controversial part of the speech involves a reference to the Armenian genocide around the time of World War I. In one version of the notes which has an unknown provenance, Hitler states:
Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter – with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me. I have issued the command – and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad – that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?
The translation is from Louis P. Lochner, who provided the sole copy of the notes that contained this paragraph. Lochner refused to identify his source ("Mr. Maasz gave it to me" was the extent of what he would say, and nobody has any idea who that might be) or give any specifics as to why he thought it was a reliable source. Lochner's version was not introduced into evidence at the Nuremberg trials due to the unknown source. In other words - it could be completely spurious and manufactured by anyone.

Looking at the paragraph above purely analytically, it is unclear if it is an accurate quote. It does contain some phrases that Hitler tended to prefer, such as "It's a matter of indifference to me," a common expression used by Hitler. On the other hand, the stark belligerency ("I'll have them all shot" may have been accurate, but is not the sort of Hitler statement often seen elsewhere in the record) is not a pose that Hitler often adopted in staff settings. Thus, there are pros and cons for those trying to divine its authenticity. There also is the possibility of the note-taker perhaps putting his own spin on whatever Hitler said - and Canaris (if he took these notes as well, which is unknown) was later shot at Auschwitz for plotting against Hitler. Canaris was a fairly mellow officer (for a member of the Third Reich), so he may have tended to exaggerate the blood-thirstiness that he heard for effect.

The last sentence of the above quote is occasionally used for political purposes to this day. It obviously is a very pungent summation of a cynical attitude toward death and morality. The quote is inscribed on one of the walls of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Whether or not Hitler actually said it, the meaning of the sentence does seem to sum up Hitler's attitude towards the subject, and the importance of remembering past tragedies. At this point, it is just accepted that Hitler made the quote, and whether he actually did or not is almost beside the point - that is the "official" version of history that people rely upon today and which comports with the known character of the speaker.

A lot about the day is uncertain besides that quote. In fact, Hitler may have given two speeches that day, depending upon how one defines such things: one before lunch, and one after. As with many other aspects of Hitler's life, an air of mystery surrounds the event. However, one thing is clear: Hitler was ready to go to war, but did not think he would have to. As Admiral Canaris' (known) notes state, Hitler said:
I have only one fear, that at the last moment some idiot may offer to mediate.
Goering, of course, had been trying to "mediate" in his clumsy way all along, but without results, so that quote may have been directed specifically at him. Hitler also says that he does not expect his enemies to fight: "They are worms: I saw them at Munich."

The mood of the German Generals is somber, especially given the news they had just received that morning that a deal with Stalin was at hand. Such a deal with the only nation in any position to conceivably protect Poland, they must figure, would almost automatically trigger a conflict. There is not the joyous outburst of enthusiasm such as had happened throughout Germany in August 1914.

German/Soviet Diplomacy: After attending Hitler's speech, Foreign Minister Ribbentrop boards Hitler's personal Condor transport and flies to Moscow with roughly 30 associates. He had received Stalin's acceptance to the meeting only the day before. Among them is Hitler's personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, there to memorialize the visit. They spend the night at Königsberg, it being a long flight from Bavaria for the era.

Berghof August 22 1939
Ribbentrop with his Moscow delegation on their return to Germany on 24 August 1939.
British Government: With war fears ascending, the British Parliament is called back into session, to be held 24 August 1939.

US Homefront: The Pine Ridge Boys record country classic "You Are My Sunshine" for Bluebird Records.

Future History: Valerie Harper is born in Suffern, New York; Carl Yastrzemski is born in Southampton, New York. Harper becomes famous as a comic actress in the 1970s, while Yastrzemski ("Yaz") becomes the cleanup hitter for the Boston Red Sox.

Berghof August 22 1939
Valerie Harper, born on 22 August 1939.


8-9 November 1923: Beer Hall Putsch

December 20, 1924: Hitler Leaves Prison

September 18, 1931: Geli Raubal Commits Suicide

November 8, 1932: Roosevelt is Elected

30 January 1933: Hitler Takes Office
February 27, 1933: Reichstag Fire
March 23, 1933: The Enabling Act

June 20, 1934: Hitler Plans the Night of the Long Knives
June 30, 1934: Night of the Long Knives

August 1, 1936: Opening of the Berlin Olympics

September 30, 1938: The Munich Agreement
November 9, 1938: Kristallnacht

August 1, 1939: Flight Tests of B-17 Flying Fortress
August 2, 1939: Einstein and the Atom Bomb
August 7, 1939: Goering Tries to Broker Peace
August 14, 1939: Hitler Decides To Attack Poland
August 15, 1939: U-Boats Put To Sea
August 16, 1939: Incident at Danzig
August 20, 1939: Battle of Khalkhin Gol
August 22, 1939: Hitler Tips His Hand
August 23, 1939: Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact
August 25, 1939: Hitler Postpones Invasion of Poland
August 27, 1939: First Jet Flight
August 31, 1939: The Gleiwitz Operation


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