David Irving


Behind the Door

One incident of the climactic summer of 1941 must be examined here lest it become submerged in the noisier events of Hitler’s attack on Russia.  It serves to illustrate the atmosphere in which that year’s more controversial decisions were taken.

A few days after Hitler’s combined armies invaded Russia, Sweden as the protecting power gave Germany discreet permission for the Soviet embassy buildings in Paris to be searched.  The embassy staff refused to let the police unit in, so the building was forcibly entered by a major general of the German police and a squad of forensic experts of Heydrich’s security service.  If the reports shown to Hitler—admittedly of Nazi origin and hence possibly tainted—are to be believed, horrifying evidence of the activities of the GPU, the Soviet secret police, was found.  Heydrich’s summary report to Ribbentrop related :  “There were twenty-six Soviet Russians in the building.  Five of them (four men and a woman) had locked themselves into strong rooms specially shielded by heavy armorplate steel doors ;  they were busy destroying documents and other materials in four furnaces specially constructed and installed in there.  They could not be prevented from doing this, as even using special technical gear it would still have taken hours to force the rooms open.  After the materials had been incinerated, the rooms were then opened from within by their occupants.”  Heydrich’s officers were less impressed by the undiplomatic haul of radio gear, time fuses, detonators, and explosives than by the outside laboratory-type furnaces found in the special wing of the building used by the GPU.  Investigation indicated that they had been used for cremating bodies.

Ribbentrop brought this report to Hitler, but Hitler had already heard the details firsthand from Admiral Canaris, one of whose department heads had himself inspected the Paris building.  He had recorded :  “The inspection yielded an exceedingly interesting insight into the GPU’s activities.  The completely isolated wing of the embassy in which the GPU’s offices and execution chambers were located can only be described as a criminals’ and murderers’ workshop of the most outstanding technical perfection :  soundproof walls, heavy, electrically operated steel doors, hidden spyholes and slots for guns to be fired from one room into another, an electrical furnace, and a bathtub in which the corpses were cut up, completed the macabre inventory of these rooms, in addition to housebreaking implements, poison capsules, and the like.  Thus there is every probability that General Miller, and perhaps General Kutiepoff as well, together with many an awkward White Russian emigrČ or opponent of the Soviets in France, vanished in this way—they literally ‘went up in smoke.’ ”

Hitler ordered the Soviet embassy buildings in Berlin unsealed and searched at once.  At first the Swedes refused to allow the safes to be blown open, but eventually they agreed to look the other way.  In the Soviet trade mission headquarters at 11 Lietsenburgerstrasse the same armored strongrooms with the same furnaces were found, and again there were stocks of guns and ammunition.

Hitler was a realist.  There was no reason why these finds should have shocked him, and there is no evidence that he regarded them as of anything more than propaganda value (not that he could exploit them, for diplomatic reasons).  He expected the war in the Soviet Union to be merciless and to obey no conventional rules.  For twenty years he had been fighting bolshevism, and its face had changed but little in those two decades.  Bolshevik methods were familiar to him, and they had also impressed themselves on those European nations which had however briefly tasted the fruits of bolshevism.(1)  The horrors of the Cheka were part of history, but the brutality of the Bolsheviks in the Spanish civil war, in Stalin’s half of Poland, and most recently in the hapless Baltic states—occupied by the Soviets in the spring of 1940 under the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact—indicated that this was a permanent trait.  In the French campaign, German troops had found ten of their infantry comrades bound hand and foot with their eyes torn out, and an antiaircraft gunner with his feet sawn off ;  the culprits turned out to be Spanish Red Guards (all were executed).  In the Baltic countries Stalin had appointed commissars who had supervised the deportation and liquidation of the entire intelligentsia within a matter of weeks (as had been done in Poland already) ;  these commissars—said to have been Jewish—had then been replaced by Russians who had disposed of their predecessors.

In the western campaigns Hitler had instructed the Wehrmacht to fight with discipline.  In the armistice that followed he had explicitly ordered all troops and civilian personnel in the occupied territories to perform their duties “flawlessly” and with proper reserve toward the former enemy populations ;  any drunkenness or violence was to be severely punished—if necessary by “death and dishonor.”  In the interests of the armistice, he had not insisted on the extradition of enemy “war criminals” for trial by German courts.  In March 1941, Hitler took no action when his ambassador in Paris recommended executing former Prime Minister Reynaud and Minister of the Interior Georges Mandel on the charge of having organized bands of ununiformed franc tireurs to gun down German parachutists during “Yellow.”

In the eastern campaign, however, no holds would be barred on either side.  A member of Jodl’s staff later wrote :  “For Hitler the Russian enemy has two faces, and one of them is bolshevism, his ideological deadly enemy, which Hitler as Europe’s champion intends to put to the sword and ‘eradicate with ruthless, remorseless lack of mercy’—you have to hear it from his own mouth, rasping and rolling every ‘r.’  For Hitler, bolshevism is not an enemy with whom one chivalrously crosses swords.  In his view we must expect all manner of knavery and cruelty.  So Hitler proposes to meet him with the same fighting methods from the start.  He states that ‘Them or Us’ is to be the pitiless motto of this clash.”  To some extent the Bolshevik leaders had themselves paved the way for this development by formally renouncing czarist treaties, including the various conventions governing warfare, and by having refused to sign the Geneva Convention of 1929 on the treatment of prisoners of war.(2)  They could do what they liked with German prisoners in their hands, but they could expect no quarter from Hitler either.

G–ring’s previous hint to General Thomas concerning the advisability of rapidly getting rid of the Bolshevik leaders was now—on Hitler’s direct orders to Jodl—to be entrenched as a principle in the special guidelines issued to the Wehrmacht for “Barbarossa”:

The coming campaign is more than just a clash of arms.  It will result in a conflict of two ideologies.  Given the vastness of the country, it will not be enough to defeat the enemy armed forces if the war is to be ended.  The entire area must be split up into states with their own governments, with each of whom we can sign peace agreements.... Every revolution of any size creates facts which cannot just be wiped away.  Wishful thinking alone will not rid modern Russia of the socialist idea ;  so this alone can act as the domestic political basis for the creation of these new states and governments.  The Jewish-Bolshevik intelligentsia as the present “subjugators” of the people must be got rid of.  The former bourgeois aristocracy, in so far as it survives abroad, is also useless—they are rejected by the Russian people and are anti-German in any case.... In addition we must do everything to avoid allowing a nationalist Russia to supplant the Bolshevik one, as history shows it will always be anti-German.  Our job is to set up as soon as possible, with a minimum of military effort, socialist mini-states dependent on us.  These tasks will be so difficult that they cannot be entrusted to the army.

The war aims Hitler thus revealed to Jodl were very different from the colonization of the east which was alone his driving inspiration.  In July 1943 he was to make this clear.  “I consider it a cardinal and catastrophic error, something with the gravest consequences, to take the slightest step that might cause a man to say to himself.  ‘We are getting out of here anyway ;  we are not going to remain ;  there are going to be national states founded here, so we will have to get out.’ ”  A soldier needs “positive war aims” to fight body and soul for his country.  What war aim can equal a crusade of imperialist conquest ?  Hitler’s outspoken philosophy in July 1943 was this :  “In the end man lives from the soil, and the soil is a goblet passing from lip to lip, which Providence allows to linger longest with the nation that fights for it.”

Jodl’s staff redrafted the special guidelines for “Barbarossa” during March 1941, as Hitler had asked.  The army’s actual zone of operations was to be a belt as shallow as practicable, while in the rear Himmler’s SS and various “Reich commissioners” would see to the founding of the new state governments.  The OKW records speak obscurely of the need to put “all Bolshevik headmen and commissars” out of the way, and they quote Hitler as having stipulated that the political administrations were to start functioning as soon as possible “so that the struggle between the ideologies can be waged simultaneously with the clash of arms.”  Himmler had been ordered by Hitler to carry out on his own responsibility “certain special duties” of a kind to be expected in a fight between two diametrically opposed political systems.  The army’s records portray Hitler’s purpose more bluntly.  Halder recorded the F¸hrer as telling him :  “We have to set up de-Stalinized republics.  The intelligentsia appointed by Stalin must be destroyed.  The Russian empire’s command machinery must be smashed.  In the whole of Russia it will be necessary to employ the most naked brute force.  The ideological ties are not yet strong enough to hold the Russian people together.  Once the officials are disposed of, the nation will burst apart.”  Again there is no evidence that the General Staff contested this broad view.

Halder’s quartermaster general (traditionally responsible for army occupation policy) attended that conference ;  after discussing police matters with Heydrich, a few days later he drafted an army order giving the SS “task forces” a free hand to execute certain grim assignments within the army’s zone of operations.  In a lengthy speech to his army and Luftwaffe generals at the end of the month—to which we shall return in another context—Hitler also prepared them for the different character of the coming fight in Russia.  Communist ideology was compared to legalized criminality.  “We must put the arguments of soldierly comradeship right out of our minds,” he told his generals.  “The Communist is no comrade and never will be.”  He again explicitly referred to the “annihilation of the Bolshevik commissars and the Communist intelligentsia,” and he emphasized that “commissars and GPU officials are criminals and must be treated as such.”  In conclusion, Hitler noted :  “I do not expect my generals to understand my orders to this effect.  But I demand that they obey them.”

Early in March 1941 the British navy executed a lightning raid on the Lofoten Isles in Norway, shelling the town of Svolvaer, sinking several ships in the harbor, and taking about two hundred German merchant seamen prisoners.  Militarily the raid was insignificant, but Hitler treated it as a monstrous blow to German prestige, and it roused in him wholly disproportionate fears for Norway’s security.  Norway was to be the key to German naval supremacy in future decades—he had commissioned Albert Speer to construct at Trondheim a major new city and naval dockyard, and Todt’s labor battalions were already engineering superhighways to the far north, the like of which Norway had never seen before.

While snow settled suddenly around the Berghof, blotting out premature signs of spring, Hitler issued orders for the immediate investigation of the Lofoten raid and the execution of all Norwegians who had aided the enemy.  The army was to install 160 gun batteries along the Norwegian coast forthwith, and Admiral Hermann Boehm, the admiral commanding Norway, was summoned to the Berghof.  At this conference Hitler decided it would no longer be possible to release 40 percent of the (very considerable) military strength in Norway for “Barbarossa”;  indeed, he actually ordered the Narvik and Kirkenes regions reinforced.  For the next three years the fear that the British would mount an invasion of Norway never left him.

As the ice thawed in Central Europe, the Wehrmacht’s timetable began to unfold.  One of Hitler’s secretaries, Christa Schroeder, wrote at the Berghof on March 7 :

“ I feel so cut off from everybody here, so shut in, that it is as though I were deaf.  It will soon be time to return to Berlin ;  we have been down here long enough.  We will probably be back in Berlin in the middle of the month.... We have to be injected again against cholera and typhus—and that happened before all our big journeys !”

G–ring had now returned from his extended leave, and on March 6 he secured a long interview with Hitler in which he repaired the fences that had been broken—particularly by his hated rival Admiral Raeder—in his absence.  Raeder had especially regretted the continuing reduction of naval air power that had begun early in 1940, and he had lost no opportunity of criticizing the Luftwaffe commander and exposing the hollowness of his claims to Hitler.  From the moment G–ring had gone on leave in November, the admiral had argued with the F¸hrer that the surest means of defeating Britain was the blockade of her imports by air and submarine forces operating under a unified—meaning his own—command ;  his submarine officers at least had a right to adequate aerial reconnaissance over the Atlantic.  Hitler had initially regarded the continual in-fighting between Raeder and G–ring as proof of the need for a much more powerful OKW.  (Another bone of contention between the two commanders was whether torpedo-bomber attacks on enemy shipping were better controlled by the air force or the navy.  Hitler irritably declared this was “completely unimportant,” all that mattered was that the weapon be effectively employed.)  At this time G–ring’s prestige was low following his defeat in the Battle of Britain.  He was also embarrassed by the exaggerated claims of his pilots when “destroyed” enemy aircraft, battleships, and aircraft carriers turned up intact.  It is significant that although G–ring referred to himself in February 1941 as “the second man in the state,” Hitler was privately explaining to Keitel and Jodl that one reason why a powerful OKW would become necessary in the future was that “a man might later step into his shoes who might well be the best statesman but might not have as much military knowledge and ability at his fingertips as he did.”  This could hardly refer to G–ring.

Raeder had become bolder in his attacks on the absent Reichsmarschall, producing air photographs of Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Cardiff to show the ineffectiveness of the Luftwaffe attacks and pointing out that the crescendo of RAF attacks on Germany was proof that the enemy air force was anything but defeated.  Only in bombing the sea lanes could the Luftwaffe be used to best advantage.  These arguments were accepted by Hitler in his directive for economic warfare against Britain on February 6.  He identified the loss of British merchant shipping as the most potent factor in the destruction of the war economy ;  the effect of Luftwaffe attacks on the British arms industry was noted as “more problematic.”  In a direct reference to G–ring’s present tactical directives, Hitler emphasized :  “No decisive effect is to be expected from systematic terror raids on residential areas or attacks on coastal fortifications.”  Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to transfer control of No. 40 Bomber Wing, equipped with the long-range Focke-Wulf 200, to Admiral D–nitz, the submarine fleet commander, for reconnaissance purposes.  Furious, G–ring summoned D–nitz on February 7 and bitingly informed him that the navy was laboring under a delusion if it imagined that in this way it was going to scrape together a naval air force ;  only over his dead body would any of his precious Focke-Wulf 200s be supplied to D–nitz for such unspectacular purposes as aerial reconnaissance.  Now that G–ring had returned from leave, Hitler wearily yielded to his tantrums.

Hitler nevertheless remained unimpressed by the Luftwaffe attacks on Britain.  A French diplomat who had left Britain in December reported to the German authorities that although the night bombing of London and Coventry had affected public morale to some extent, Newcastle, where he had been stationed, had hardly suffered.  Hitler personally underlined with blue pencil the man’s remarks that “massive attacks on Newcastle had not taken place up to his departure.  He was puzzled by this as at present the Vickers Armstrong shipyards at Newcastle were building an aircraft carrier (due to be finished in about six months), two battle cruisers (finished in five or six months), a light cruiser, six or seven destroyers, and three or four submarines.”  Hitler ordered this oversight brought to the Luftwaffe’s attention, but still he refused to injure G–ring’s pride—as he himself put it—by giving the navy direct control of the air force units that it needed.  Indeed, now that G–ring’s leave was over, Hitler laid down a final reorganization of Luftwaffe reconnaissance duties, splitting them up into naval (North Sea) and Luftwaffe (Atlantic) zones, a compromise that positively invited disaster.

In Albania, the minor offensive Mussolini had so pompously launched on March 9 folded up within five days.  Hitler was secretly pleased that the Duce had again burned his fingers.  Now the Greek general commanding the northern army secretly let the Germans know that they would agree to an immediate armistice in Albania if the Italian troops there were replaced by Germans ;  they would also talk about territorial claims, provided that there were no Italians at the conference table ;  unless these provisos were met, the Greeks would fight to the finish.  Hitler wanted the British thrown out of Greece and the Peloponnesus, but he told both Brauchitsch and Raeder that even if Greece would now agree to do so, Germany would still have to occupy the whole country so that the Luftwaffe could command the eastern Mediterranean.  He nonetheless viewed the coming war with Greece with undiluted distaste.  He admired the Greeks as a nation and had still not broken off diplomatic relations with Athens ;  as a result, there was a continuous flow of information on the mood there—and the mood of the people was that the “holy war with Italy” must be fought to final victory.

By March 24, when Hitler departed for Vienna, the British were believed to have disembarked up to forty thousand troops in Greece.  The OKW instructed the German military attachČ in Washington to see to it that the size of the British force in Greece was given maximum publicity.  “The bigger the British talk, the better will be the propaganda effect of their defeat.”  In Vienna, the documents attaching Yugoslavia to the Tripartite Pact were at last to be signed, and Hitler was in high spirits as his train pulled into the station.  He caught sight of Ribbentrop’s corpulent young liaison officer, Ambassador Hewel—easily the most eligible bachelor on his staff and teasingly suggested that this was his thirty-seventh birthday and high time to be married.  “I hope in my old age you will allow me to say, Send all the little Hewels to come and see me. . . .”

Hitler and his entourage stayed at the Imperial Hotel, redolent with memories of March 1938.  When the day was over, Hewel entered in his diary :  “Ceremonial signing of Yugoslavia’s entry to the Tripartite Pact at the Belvedere.  Afterward conferences with [Dragisha] Cvetkovic”—the Yugoslav prime minister—“and Ciano.  Afterward dinner with Schirach, very pleasant.  Maria Holst, Fr”ulein Caspar, etc., were there.  F¸hrer spoke the whole time about my getting married.”  Indeed, among Hewel’s possessions is the menu of that dinner—simple enough, but signed by everybody present :  Hitler’s personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, Dr. Karl Brandt, his adjutants, Bormann, and the young Viennese beauties Schirach had selected to grace the table.  Hitler scribbled at the top, “To the peacock, from a well-wisher.—Adolf Hitler.”

Before Hitler returned to Berlin, his adjutants allowed a “Frau Wolf” in to see him—his younger sister, Paula, working incognito as a secretary for doctors in a military hospital.  For a while they chatted about family affairs.  Paula said, “Sometimes when I am in the mountains and I see a little chapel I go in and pray for you.”  Hitler was deeply stirred, and after a time replied, “Do you know it is my absolute conviction that the Lord is holding his protecting hand above me ?”  Paula had been eleven when their mother died, and Adolf eighteen.  He had not seen her for thirteen years after that, but he had let her have his share of their orphans’ pension, while he had worked as a laborer in Vienna.  In the years of his rise to power, he had annually sent her a ticket to the impressive Nuremberg rally, but she remained of the opinion that it was a pity he had not become an architect as he had always wanted.  This was the last time he saw Paula.

It had taken all of March to persuade the ambiguous Yugoslavs to sign the pact, but the psychological blow to Britain was well worth the time invested ;  in addition, Hitler’s armies fighting in Greece would depend on a line of communications extending for some 250 miles along, and only 12 miles away from, the Yugoslav border, so even hostility short of war would be most undesirable.  The regent, Prince Paul, had visited him unofficially at the Berghof and explained how touchy public opinion in his country was.  It was not until Germany agreed to Paul’s terms—Yugoslavian territory would not be crossed by Axis troops, and though Yugoslavia was to make no military contribution herself, she was to receive Salonika as a reward—that the Yugoslav privy council agreed to the signature ;  however, anti-Italian feeling was running so high in Belgrade that several ministers resigned over the issue.  Once the pact was signed, Hitler sent for Keitel and expressed his pleasure that there would be no further unpleasant surprises for them in the Balkans, but when he made the same remark to Ciano he qualified it thus :  “Yugoslavia’s domestic affairs could still take a complicated turn despite everything.”  This was not an example of his famous intuition ;  the Abwehr report on Yugoslavia had that day noted :  “The mood of large circles is black toward Germany.  Incidents and provocations are multiplying, particularly in the provinces and villages.  The state of affairs is enough to give rise to fears that the government will lose control of the situation. . . .”  At 10:20 P.M., Hitler’s train left Vienna for Berlin, where he was to meet the Japanese foreign minister on the afternoon of the twenty-seventh.

Seldom was a pact shorter-lived than this one with Yugoslavia.  Early on March 27, Hewel brought Hitler the stunning news from Belgrade that there had been a coup d’etat ;  the prince regent had been overthrown, and with him the Cvetkovic government.  Hitler’s first reaction was that this was a bad joke, but the putsch was real enough :  crowds were demonstrating outside the German legation, the German tourist office had been destroyed, the Swedish envoy had been mistaken for a German and beaten unconscious, and British flags—distributed by the British legation—were appearing everywhere.  There were some American flags as well.  Crowds were singing “The Red Flag” in the streets.  Serbia was in an uproar ;  Croatia was still calm.  The coup had been engineered by Yugoslavia’s air force commander, General Dusan Simovic ;  a Serb known to be hostile to Germany, he was an exponent of Pan-Slavism and perhaps even a Russian agent.  His revolutionary Cabinet did not ratify the entry into the Tripartite Pact, but made continuing protestations of loyalty toward Germany.  Hitler set little store by them—he had mouthed enough of his own in the past.  He stormed that this revolution was as though somebody had smacked his fist into a basinful of water.

The traumatic effect of the Belgrade putsch on Hitler became apparent only later.  He saw it as a timely warning never to trust the Slavs.  A month later he privately noted :

To go through something like that teaches caution.  Nations today are governed less by logic and reason than by hatred and perhaps by money interests as well, and this is how it has happened that one nation after another has been precipitated into misfortune by British promises and lies—Poland, to whom I offered the most favorable terms,(3)  France, who did not want a war at all, Holland and Belgium, Norway, and now Greece and Yugoslavia.  You may say, the people themselves cannot help it, but I have to deal not with the people but their governments.

On first receiving the news, he had sent for Keitel and Jodl, met them in their conference room, and showed them the Belgrade telegram.  His initial anger had yielded almost immediately to delight at the new strategic openings.  As a result of his Austrian upbringing, he had always been uneasy about the chauvinistic Serbs in Belgrade.  This uneasiness had been reinforced by Intelligence reports that Churchill’s agents were plotting the overthrow of Prince Paul.  Now he had been forced to abdicate and an officer camarilla had dumped seventeen-year-old King Peter on the throne.  Hitler could hardly credit his good fortune that all this had happened now.  In mid-May, “Barbarossa” was scheduled to begin ;  had the overthrow of Prince Paul occurred only then, it would have enormously complicated Hitler’s plans.  “Luckily the enemy unmasked themselves now, while our hands are still free !” he crowed.  Now he would wipe Yugoslavia off the map.  Hewel wrote in his diary : “—G–ring, Brauchitsch, and Ribbentrop are sent for immediately.  Decisions are rapidly taken.  The mood is exhilarating.  The Hungarian and Bulgarian envoys are summoned forthwith.”  At 1 P.M. Generals Halder and Brauchitsch arrived.  Hitler, sparkling with excitement, took them and Ribbentrop to the map table, where he announced, “I have decided to destroy Yugoslavia.  How much military force do you need ?  How much time ?”

Almost at once, Hitler was informed that the Hungarian envoy, D–me SztŰjay, had arrived.  The war conference was adjourned.  The generals had their orders anyway.  Ribbentrop had not spoken.  Hitler told the Hungarian envoy that now that the Italians had been made a laughingstock by Greece, the whole world thought the Axis powers were finished.  His message to the regent of Hungary, Horthy, was this :  the hour had struck for Hungary’s revenge ;  the F¸hrer would support her territorial claims to the hilt.  “March back into the Banat !” he advised her, and he offered Hungary an Adriatic outlet which Admiral Horthy—the last commander of the Austro-Hungarian navy in 1918—must surely desire :  the port of Fiume.  After hearing these words, SztŰjay was flown to Budapest.  Shortly afterward Hitler received the Bulgarian envoy, Draganoff, and offered him what would have been Yugoslavia’s share of Greece-Macedonia.  “The eternal uncertainty down there is over,” he rejoiced.  “The tornado is going to burst upon Yugoslavia with breathtaking suddenness.”

The next evening the Hungarian, SztŰjay, arrived back with a secret letter from Horthy :  the regent would be pleased to help, but turned down the offer of territory.  Hitler was delighted that Germany and Hungary would now confront the Slav menace shoulder to shoulder, and mused to the envoy, “Now that I reflect on all this, I cannot help believing in a Higher Justice.  I am awestruck at the powers of Providence.”

In the brief war conference with Halder, Brauchitsch, and Ribbentrop, Hitler had settled the broad plan of attack in the Balkans.  “Politically it is vital for the blow to fall on Yugoslavia without mercy ;  militarily, she must be defeated in one lightning swoop.”  G–ring undertook to withdraw the necessary bomber and fighter squadrons from the west immediately.  The Luftwaffe would open the campaign with wave after wave of bombers to destroy Belgrade.  By the small hours of the morning following the war conference, the OKW’s formal directive was in Hitler’s hands :  “Yugoslavia is to be regarded as an enemy and is therefore to be destroyed as rapidly as possible, whatever protestations of loyalty she may utter for the time being.”  General von Rintelen was sent to Mussolini with details for the Italian armed forces.

The attack on Russia must now be postponed for up to four weeks, as the directive made clear.  It was a decision Hitler had not taken lightly, for he was well aware of the implications of allowing “Barbarossa” to drag on into the Russian winter.  In the event, however, even here fate was on his side :  the spring of 1941 had brought unusually heavy rains to Central Europe, and the ground would have been too marshy for the panzer divisions which were the backbone of “Barbarossa” to operate earlier than they did ;  the rivers and dikes were flooded throughout western Russia.  The divisions Hitler now committed to the Balkans would have remained idle until June anyway.

Punctually at 4 P.M. on March 27, outwardly unruffled by the breathtaking events of the past few hours, Hitler received the Japanese foreign minister, Yosuke Matsuoka, at the Chancellery.  Some 150,000 Berlin citizens marshaled outside in the Wilhelmplatz thundered a welcome for an ally Germany had always held in higher esteem than Italy.

Hitler saw in Japan’s territorial aspirations in the Far East a further powerful means of bringing about Britain’s submission.  The purpose of his present foreign policy was to urge the Japanese to join the fray now, while the British were still at a disadvantage.  In September 1940, Japan had occupied bases in northern Indochina with Vichy approval, but she feared to embark on fresh military exploits while Russia menaced her in the rear.  Interestingly enough, given his foreign policy goal, during the first five months of 1941 Hitler refrained from telling the Japanese outright of “Barbarossa” and went no further than oblique hints.  We are entitled to ask why, for he himself had emphasized that the Japanese could always be trusted to keep a secret.  (The Forschungsamt had long given up as a fruitless exercise the tapping of Japanese embassy telephones, and to German code-experts the Japanese cyphers seemed impregnable.)

It was Admiral Raeder who had first brought Hitler’s attention to Singapore, the key to British supremacy in the Far East.  Late in December, Raeder had shown him a letter from his naval attachČ in Tokyo, reporting that certain Japanese naval circles were seriously in favor of capturing Singapore as soon as possible ;  Raeder suggested to Hitler that this need not necessarily drag the United States into the war and that it would be very much in Germany’s interest if Japan became embroiled with Britain, however lengthy and profitless her campaign.  Hitler approved the Japanese proposal, but disappointingly little more was heard from Tokyo.  He hinted obscurely to the departing Japanese ambassador, Saburo Kurusu, in early February that “mutual friends could one day become our mutual enemies”—meaning Germany and Russia—but this message left no visible impression on Tokyo.  In the middle of the month Foreign Minister Matsuoka had however announced his intention of visiting Berlin.  Japanese policy had two broad aims—to keep the United States out of the current war, and to prepare a preventive attack on Singapore if this attempt should fail.  Japan also wanted to improve her relations with the Soviet Union.  To Hitler, these policy aims were inadequate, and he instructed the OKW to draft a plan for wide-ranging joint consultation between Germany and Japan.  He rebuked Raeder for expecting everything of Tokyo and offering nothing in return.  The Wehrmacht and German industry must give their ally generous insight into all their most up-to-date secret weapons and designs, in the tacit hope that Japan would “take active steps in the Far East as soon as possible,” thus simultaneously bringing about the defeat of Britain and keeping America out of the war.  In an OKW directive issued early in March, it was pointed out that the attack on Russia would provide Japan with an ideal opportunity to launch her own campaigns, but that “no hint whatsoever is to be given to the Japanese about ‘Operation Barbarossa’.”Matsuoka’s personal visit to the Chancellery at the end of March 1941 had been preceded by conversations a month before in which Hitler and Ribbentrop had urged the new Japanese ambassador, General Hiroshi Oshima, to recommend an attack on Singapore.  (Ribbentrop had merely indicated to the ambassador that Germany was keeping calm where Russia was concerned, but that if the Reich should be forced to fight in the east, the outcome would be a total eclipse of the Soviet Union.)  The German foreign minister wanted “a lightning strike, if possible without a declaration of war,” but Oshima said that Japan now felt it must prepare for war not only with Britain but with the United States and that this would take time ;  the preparations for attacking Singapore would be concluded by the end of May.  On February 27, Ribbentrop therefore cabled his ambassador in Tokyo :  “Please use every means at your disposal to get Japan to take Singapore as soon as possible.”  But the naval attachČ in Tokyo reported that the Japanese navy had decided against attacking Singapore alone.  Hitler still refused to play his trump card-revealing to the Japanese his firm plan to attack Russia ;  in response to General Halder’s urging on March 17 he merely agreed to drop a hint as to the possibility when Matsuoka saw him ;  Raeder made the same proposal next day privately, but Hitler again refused.

Hitler and Ribbentrop both chose their words with extreme care throughout Matsuoka’s visit.  The Reich foreign minister only hinted that a Russo-German war was entirely within the realm of possibility.  Hitler observed how cagey Matsuoka was about Singapore—the visitor stressed in painful detail how little weight his voice carried on this issue in Tokyo—and made his own most direct reference to “Barbarossa” in an aside to General Oshima at the luncheon given for Matsuoka on the twenty-eighth.  After indicating that the Soviet Union had been behind the Belgrade putsch the day before, he noted :  “If the Soviet Union were to attack Japan, then Germany would not hesitate to launch an armed attack on the Soviet Union.”  This, echoed Ribbentrop, was an “absolute guarantee.”  When a few days later Matsuoka passed through Berlin again on his way back to Tokyo from Rome, Hitler offered him a similar guarantee in the event that Japan should—through attacking Singapore—find herself at war with the United States.  On April to, Ribbentrop was to be even more explicit, stating that even if the Soviet Union did not attack Japan, “Germany might still start a war against the Soviet Union before the year is out ;  it depends on how she behaves.”  From intercepted documents, both the German foreign minister and Hitler were by now well aware of Churchill’s attempts to panic the Russians into drawing closer to the British camp.(4)  But the Japanese response was disappointing—indeed, while passing through Moscow on his return to Tokyo, Matsuoka signed an agreement of neutrality between Japan and Moscow.

Once more, on March 30, 1941, Hitler’s generals and admirals were summoned from all over Nazi-occupied Europe to hear a secret speech in Berlin.  The F¸hrer chose the New Chancellery’s Cabinet Room for his setting as its wood paneling provided the best acoustics.  Scores of gilded chairs were fetched from the nearby propaganda ministry—the speech was to last three hours.  Despite the imminence of “Marita,” and now the attack on Yugoslavia too, Hitler’s speech covered the whole European war theater, with most emphasis on the eastern front, and he only touched briefly on the tactical problems in the Balkans during the discussion that followed the simple luncheon.

He explained at some historical length his decision to attack Russia, starting significantly with Britain’s refusal to make peace in June 1940.  He spoke scathingly of Italy’s misfortunes, charitably distinguishing between the plucky but poorly led Italian soldiers and their bumbling, devious political and military commanders.  “Why has Britain fought on ?” he asked.  He identified two primary reasons—the influence of the Jews and of Britain’s international financial involvements, and the dominant influence of the Churchill clique.  Britain had floated off the sandbanks of despondency by means of purely psychological bubbles :  although she had demonstrably lost four hundred thousand tons of shipping at Dunkirk, she had camouflaged the rout as a victorious retreat ;  the RAF’s night bombing of Germany boosted home morale far more than it damaged German industry ;  British cockiness had been restored by the failure of the dreaded Wehrmacht invasion to materialize, and by Mussolini’s defeats in the Mediterranean.

Now Britain was hitching her fortunes to the United States and Russia, declared Hitler.  Of the United States he was not afraid—it could never match Germany’s soaring aircraft, tank, and submarine production ;  not for four years would American arms output be going at full blast, and then there was the problem of transporting the arms and troops to the European theater.  But Russia must be defeated now.  “Now we have the chance to smash Russia while our own back is free.  That chance will not return so soon.  I would be betraying the future of the German people if I did not seize it now !”  Once this land-forces problem had been settled, in about two years, Germany could set about mastering her other duties in the skies and oceans of the world.  He urged his generals to have no moral compunctions about violating their treaty with Russia.  It was quite clear why Stalin had cynically signed it ;  but he also urged them not to underestimate the Russian tanks or air force, or to rely too heavily on Germany’s allies in this fight.  “The fate of major German formations must not be trusted to the steadfastness of Romanian divisions”—a warning he was himself to ignore at Stalingrad.

Hitler also drilled into his generals that this would be a war between great ideologies, and as such very different from the war in the west.  “In the east cruelty now will be kindness for the future.”  The Russian commissars and GPU officials were criminals and were to be treated as such.  “It is not our job to see that these criminals survive.”

In a masterpiece of rapid General Staff work, the entire Balkan campaign plan was dismantled and remounted within nine days to include the improvised invasion of Yugoslavia by German forces, with Hungarian and Italian troops in walk-on roles.  It was a feat of planning Hitler recognized, but only tacitly.

Hitler meanwhile decided how the carcass of Yugoslavia was to be carved up—the rich and fertile Banat region would be returned to Hungary, the Dalmatian coast and Montenegro assigned to Italy, and Serbia placed under German military rule.  Of the former Austrian territory Germany would require only the return of Carinthia and Styria to the Reich.  Croatia was to become an autonomous state and choose its own ruler ;  Greek Macedonia was to be annexed by Bulgaria.  It all seemed a very satisfactory end to the Balkan nightmare.  Russia’s Balkan stance remained uncertain, and in the last few days before launching the invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia, Hitler was in the same agony of apprehension that had gripped him before “Yellow” and the invasion of Norway.  Rumors multiplied.  Was Stalin offering Yugoslavia’s new regime a nonaggression pact ?  Had he secretly offered the Yugoslavs arms and supplies, as an intercepted message between Belgrade and Moscow had implied ?  The Russians hotly denied the suggestion—Hungary would never allow Russian arms to cross her territory ;  but Hitler knew there were other routes to Belgrade, through the Aegean ports of Greece, for example.  He warned Antonescu to increase the guard on Romania’s frontiers as tension between the Axis and Belgrade rose.  On April 5 the Romanian General Staff regarded by Foreign Armies East as the best source of Intelligence after Finland—reported that the Russians were stepping up photographic reconnaissance sorties over Romania, that sixty or more Russian aircraft had suddenly arrived at Leofa, and that a new paratroop school had just opened at Kiev.

All these warnings sinisterly shaded the Belgrade regime’s obvious attempts to gain time.  Hitler instructed Ribbentrop to ignore any fresh protestations of loyalty from Belgrade.  When Count Ciano telephoned after dinner on March 31 with the news that the deputy premier of Yugoslavia was asking to see Mussolini, Hitler advised, “Yes, but keep him away for the next few days.”  On April 5 the political clouds suddenly began to clear :  Hewel brought him a disturbing Forschungsamt intercept proving that Stalin was on the point of signing a pact with the new anti-German regime in Belgrade (it was signed within the next twenty-four hours).  It was, therefore, now or never.  All through the fifth, Hitler was on tenterhooks, and he sat up with Hewel and his personal staff talking until five in the morning.  Twenty minutes later, his armored and infantry divisions began storming the frontiers of Greece and Yugoslavia ;  his heavily escorted bomber squadrons were already in the air heading for Belgrade.

1 In a cynical entry in his unpublished diary of August 1941, Goebbels wrote :  “A search of the Soviet embassies in Paris and Berlin has brought surprising terror weapons to light.  These Soviet embassies are in fact the refuges of criminals.  This is inevitable.  If a criminal gang comes to power, then they will use criminal means to conduct their policies.  It is a good thing that bolshevism is being got rid of once and for all in our eastern campaign.  There was after all no room for the two of us in Europe, in the long run.”

2 On August 8, the Soviet government offered through Sweden to observe The Hague Convention of 1907 on land warfare, and the Geneva Conventions of 1925 and 1929 on poison-gas warfare and prisoners of war, respectively.  By that time the Russians had lost a million soldiers as prisoners to the German army.

3 He was referring to the sixteen-point proposals “offered” to the Poles in August 1939.  At the time he had described them privately as terms on which the Poles should “choke.”

4 This being so, there seems no logical explanation for G–ring’s revealing to his Swedish intermediary, Dahlerus—who would no doubt rapidly transmit it to London—between March 24 and 27, 1941, that Hitler was preparing to attack Russia; moreover, in the second week of June 1941 G–ring again summoned Dahlerus to Berlin and informed him of the precise date of the attack.  There is no indication that Hitler was aware of this.


p. 209   Fearing an injunction from the Soviet embassy in Bonn, my German publishers have omitted the description of the Soviet embassy in Paris.  Heydrich’s report to Ribbentrop, dated July 2, 1941, is in Weizs”cker’s file, Serial 105.  In Ritter’s AA file, Serial 1386, page 358996, is Canaris’s report :  “A side wing of the embassy was equipped as a GPU base complete with instruments for torturing, executions, and the disposal of corpses.”  Colonel Lahousen’s eyewitness description is in CO files, AL/1933.  Hewel’s Ledger proves the reports went to Hitler on July 25, 1941.  Goebbels also refers to them in his (unpublished) diary of August 10, 1941 (T84/267).

p. 216   Paula Hitler was interrogated at Berchtesgaden on May 26, 1945.

p. 217   Ribbentrop, in Zwischen London und Moskau, page 224, recalls Hitler describing the Yugoslav ministers’ gloom “as though they were at a funeral.”  Prince Paul himself was more of a realist, however ;  under German interrogation, Dragizha Tsvetkovich and his secretary related that when he was forced to abdicate a few days later the prince declared he was convinced that an alliance with Britain would result in the ruination of their country (AA, files of task force K¸nsberg, Serial 2013H, pages 443373 et seq.).  For the bribery employed by Churchill’s government to secure the prince’s overthrow, see The Cadogan Diaries, page 366.

p. 218   The events of March 27-28, 1941, are described from the diaries of Halder, Hewel, Waldau ;  the German records of Hitler’s talks with SztŰjay and Parvan Draganoff ;  Hungarian records in the national archives of Budapest ;  and the OKW operations staff note on Hitler’s conference of March 27 (1746-PS).

p. 219   The immediate fear of the naval staff (war diary, April 3, 1941) was, “Through the Balkan operation, ‘Operation B[arbarossa]’ is going to be held up by around five weeks, initially.”  That the heavy rains would in fact have delayed it anyway becomes clear from the postwar testimony of Heusinger, Gyldenfeldt, and others.

p. 220   The German record of Hitler’s most important meetings with the Japanese ambassador and foreign minister has not always survived, but the Japanese texts of Oshima’s cables are in Tokyo archives, usefully translated into German in WR, 1968, pages 312 et seq.

pp. 221-22   Summaries of Hitler’s secret speech of March 30, 1941, are in the diaries of Bock, Halder, Waldau, and Milch, and in the war diaries of the OKW and naval staff and the latter’s volume of appendices C (Part VII).  Raeder was particularly pleased by Hitler’s undertaking to expand the German battle fleet—particularly with battleships and aircraft carriers—“after the army’s big tasks were dealt with.”  (On April 7, General Friedrich Fromm’s Chief of Staff was to note in his diary Brauchitsch’s statement :  “ ‘Barbarossa’ on June 22 or 23.  Create operational reserve ... What happens after ‘Barbarossa’s’ dealt with ?  Schwerpunkt switches to navy and Luftwaffe.”)