The Outbreak of the Second World War: Design or Blunder?

By John L. Snell | Go to book overview

HISTORY'S CASE AGAINST HITLER:
A FRENCH VIEW
MAURICE BAUMONT

In the opinion of many scholars, the most distinguished multivolume history of modern Europe in any language just after World War II was the collection edited by two noted French historians: Louis Halphen and Philippe Sagnac, Peuples et civilisations. The period 1918- 1939 in that series is treated in two volumes by Maurice Baumont. Between the World Wars Baumont served both the Reparations Commission and the League of Nations. He is author of a study of the fall of the German monarchy in 1918 and other books, and is professor of contemporary history at the Sorbonne. He served as chief French editor on the United States-British-French committee that after 1945 edited captured documents of the German Foreign Ministry for publication. The volume from which this reading is taken was basically written in 1945 and revised in the light of the new German documents.

On August 22nd [ 1939], Chamberlain informs Hitler in a personal letter that the Russo-German pact in no way modifies the British attitude with respect to Poland and repeats his conviction that an Anglo-German war would be "the worst catastrophe." He begs him to undertake direct discussion with the Polish government. "It has been maintained," he declares, "that if His Majesty's Government had more clearly defined its position in 1914, the great catastrophe could have been avoided. Whether this statement be justified or not, His Majesty's Government is determined that such a tragic misunderstanding not repeat itself."

During an interview with Ambassador Henderson, Hitler specifically accuses England of playing the champion of inferior races and of seeking the destruction of Germany, whose vital interests cannot any longer be sacrificed. He prefers rather "to declare war at the age of fifty," he adds, than to wait until fifty-five or sixty. "The Germans will fight until the last man," and will in three weeks overcome the resistance of the Polish army which, with only a mediocre artillery and an insignificant air force, completely lacks anti-tank weapons.

This same August 22nd, Hitler announces to his commanders-in-chief that conflict is inevitable. "I will give some propaganda reason for starting the war: it makes little difference whether or not it's plausible. When one begins a war, what counts is not right, but victory."

On August 23rd, he replies to Chamberlain, pretending that the unconditional assurance of assistance promised to Poland by England has encouraged Polish terrorism "against a million and a half Germans living in Poland"; Germany cannot "tolerate the continuation of such persecution." He lays the blame on "those who, after the crime of Versailles, have always obstinately opposed any peaceful revision" of the treaty. "All my life," he concludes, "I have fought for Anglo-German friendship," and he deplores "the futility of such an endeavour."

From that time on the Germans concen

____________________
From Maurice Baumont, La faillite de la paix ( 1918-1939), 2 vols., 3rd ed. ( Paris, 1951), II, 877- 888. Reprinted by permission of the Presses Universitaires de France. Translated by Dr. Rima Reck.

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