Invasions of Poland and Soviet Russia
Translation and commentary by Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann
Ein Anderer Hitler, Druffel Verlag, Leoni am Starnberger,6th edition, 1982.
Copyright 2010 Carolyn Yeager
Translators’ Introduction: Following the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944, and the intense attention given to the investigation with it’s resulting mass arrests and trials of the conspirator-traitors, it was only natural that a period of reflection would ensue. During that autumn, Hermann Giesler continued to meet with Adolf Hitler, as time permitted, to work on the city building plans that were so dear to the heart of the German leader. And as usual, Hitler confided many of his thoughts, conclusions and concerns about the war, and the rationale behind his decisions, to his friend and architect. Giesler’s account is presented here without further comment, but we have added four separate “sidebars” of text and photos to give background and context to what was discussed. From Giesler’s memoir:
Hitler’s pact with Stalin
The themes of my evening and late night talks with Adolf Hitler in the fall of 1944 resulted from my job as a city builder. The involvement with those problems helped Hitler to relax and, at the same time, gave him the opportunity to determine the future form of those cities from an unusual observation post. His interpretations, ideas and suggestions were significant and were integrated into my planning.
However, those evening talks were not always confined to city building, architecture and technical matters. Sometimes those themes were pushed aside by heavy burdens of military or political events. A dissonant “Lage” (military planning meeting) could also lead Hitler to reactions and reflections expressed very frankly, thus turning me into his confidant.
One evening he talked about the beginning of the war, indicating what thoughts had moved him in August 1939 to the pact with Stalin. He wanted to prevent the menacing encirclement of Germany, and saw that agreement as a last chance to peacefully solve the Danzig and Corridor problems.1
For years, he said, he tried hard to win Poland over for a fateful European union. It made good sense that Poland should participate in a defense wall against Bolshevism. Every Polish division, he went on, would mean strengthening the military power against not only a possible, but now already significantly obvious, onslaught of Bolshevism against Europe. But the people responsible for Versailles were able to masterfully drive a nearly invincible wedge between Germany and Poland. “Danzig and the Corridor!” Their democratically lined cloak of self-determination would have been removed whenever they felt there was need to do so..2 That Poland had to have a free access to the Baltic Sea was for Hitler self-evident. He therefore tried to reach a settlement along that line, and defuse a poisonous tension in their relationship. It was by no means in our interest to share borders with Soviet Russia – and when he signed an agreement with Marshall [Jozef] Pilsudski 3, he saw some value in that.
Marshall Jozef Pilsudski, shown here in 1930 five years before his death, had a vision of a Heroic Poland. He insisted not only on complete Polish independence, but that Poland should be recognized as equal to the Great Powers as the leading state representing Eastern Europe. From 1914 until 1939, his ideas were the defining influence on the development of Poland, even though Pilsudski was of Lithuanian descent.
Pilsudski saw World War I as an opportunity to gain territory for a new Polish Republic. In 1917, he switched from support of Germany to support of the Western Allies, demanding a completely independent Polish national army and severance from all ties which made Poland dependent on the Central Powers.
Poles were ecstatic over Germany’s final surrender and at the peace process their demands were exorbitant. While they didn’t get all they asked for, they did get more than they had any right to, making an enduring peace in the border areas between Germany and Poland unlikely. Between 1918 and 1924, Polish oppression of ethnic Germans in the former West Prussia drove 400,000 of them to the extreme step of leaving behind their historic home and crossing the new border farther west into the now smaller Germany. At the same time the new Polish Republic drifted under its democratic regimes, with no economic progress. In May 1926, the more authoritarian-minded Pilsudski ordered a coup d’etat on the existing regime and after a short civil war, took control but with no broad base of popular support.
In keeping with his desire to maintain Poland’s independence, Pilsudski signed a Soviet-Polish Non-Aggression Pact in 1932 and a German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact in January 1934 with Adolf Hitler (referred to in the quote above). Hitler wanted a German-Polish alliance against the Soviet Union, but Piłsudski declined, preferring to be prepared for potential war with either Germany or the Soviet Union, while keeping alive the friendship with France and England as support. However, he did advise that the door always be kept open for talks with Germany, which his personally appointed successors (Beck, Ridz-Smigly) didn’t follow.
But Pilsudski’s admonition to his people4 collapsed under the promises and chauvinistic agitation of the Allies. Up to March 1939, Hitler hoped to reach a settlement with Poland or even sign a friendship pact, but Chamberlain’s Guarantee Declaration deemed that hopeless. Poland was in the West’s camp. He (Hitler) saw an agreement with Russia as the only chance to avoid encirclement by the Western Powers.
England’s diplomats had already tried to strengthen the encirclement by adding Russia’s power. Hitler became aware that the Polish problems, now already an open threat, could no longer be solved without Russia. Still, he tried once more to come to a sensible solution. His offer to the Polish government was not only magnanimous, but reached the utmost limit Germany could bear. Only he could make such an offer, serving peace with an honest heart, adverse to the legitimate interests of the German people.
But the Poles stirred the warmongers and persisted in keeping the injustices of Versailles alive. They felt protected by the senseless Guarantee Declaration of England and France. Today, Hitler is convinced that Stalin was part of those warmongers. Icily calculating, Stalin was driving a devilish double game – a binding treaty with us, while at the same time winking at the Western Powers.
Why consensus moves failed
Our treaty with Stalin 5 did not motivate the Poles to yield to a peaceful settlement of the Danzig and Corridor problem. Also, because of the continued provocations and persecutions of the German minorities in the part of Poland added by the dictates of Versailles, the now unavoidable war could not have been localized by that German-Russian agreement.
Already at that time, he felt the currents of reaction as real – not only of military, but also those with diplomatic and church connections. But it didn’t dawn on him to what villainy that scum out of the German population might be capable. The scope of the malicious behavior, combined with the foolishness and total misjudging of the actual world situation, appeared only later – revealed by the assassination.6
Until the last massive snub 7 by the Polish leadership at the end of August 1939, he couldn’t imagine that they would let it come to a fight. Sober deliberations would have led the Poles to the following conclusions:
1) The German claim for Danzig is justified because Danzig is a German city.
2) The settlement of the Corridor question is necessary and the request for a plebiscite 8 is correct.
3) The alternative offer of the plebiscite for a final and peaceful settlement represents the utmost limits of what can be expected from Germany.
4) After the signing of the German-Russian treaty, Poland’s military situation was hopeless.
5) England’s Guarantee Declaration did not change anything, nor did any additional far-reaching assurances by England and France. Between the two power blocks of Germany and Russia, Poland would be smashed in a few weeks.
Something else countered those facts and encouraged the Poles in their attitude. Either an English perfidy, which made the Poles risk a war, or the English hint of an assured regime collapse: the removal of the war threat by a reactionary clique within Germany, followed by a putsch.
A multitude of wishful thinking might explain the following –
The (German) reactionary: “If you remain tough, we will get rid of him.”
The English: “That’s how we finish Germany and the Nazis, we use the Poles.”
And the Poles: “Yes, if that’s so, in a few weeks we are in Berlin.”
When England and France declared war in September 1939, Poland was not their concern. The Guarantee Declarations gave them the goal they were after: a war among the European nations, which complies exactly with Lenin’s prophecy. As the war against Poland was now inevitable, Stalin used it to clear the Soviet’s west border – after we conquered Poland, Stalin effortlessly finished the rest and then liquidated over 10,000 officers and leaders at the Katyn forest.
The reports of Polish brutality against the German minorities in the Corridor and the border areas had affected Hitler terribly. Partly before and partly after the beginning of the battles, they were rounded up and beaten to death. More German minorities (Volksdeutsche) were beaten and tortured to death than German soldiers died during the regular fighting. That had influenced his attitude toward the Poles.
Russian-Soviet timing and tactics
Hitler then talked again about the German-Russian agreement. That treaty protected our back; we were able to win time. But Stalin, too, needed to gain time when he signed the pact with us. By its Guarantee Declaration, England made any rational and peaceful settlement impossible and wanted war. Stalin, too, drove toward war without being involved right away. Unrest within Europe and Germany’s weakness was his goal – and on that his very smart chess moves were aimed at getting us deeply involved in the war and Russia would take the advantage.
Those are the old Czarist, now Lenin-Stalin, political aims: by the partition of Poland, the Soviets gained their Western fore field. While we were tied down with our forces in the West, they annexed the Baltic States, occupied Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina; they were not squeamish, they turned spheres of interest into annexations.
After the French campaign, Stalin certainly expected long-lasting battles; he assumed we would attack England and England thought we would go against Russia. Stalin laid in wait, time was with him, and that “time” was the gigantic Russian-Asiatic continent. We did not have any of that – neither time nor space. And both are decisively interconnected.
Stalin – no, Russia since Peter the Great! –wanted still more territory. Russia wants the Balkans as a “sphere of interest” naturally, like the Baltic States. Russia intends Bulgaria as “a sphere of interest” – it would give her access to the Aegean Sea. She wants bases at the Dardanelles.
Stalin’s demands now went from Finland to the Aegean Sea, as a basis for the Bolshevik world revolution – or were those the Old Russian imperialist aims of Peter the Great? Had Hitler agreed to what Molotov demanded in the name of Stalin, he would have betrayed Europe.
The political future of Europe
The destiny of the Occident (Abendland) was at stake – Spengler prophesied in the twenties its disintegration and decline. He (Hitler) considered it his task to win over the German people, the whole of Europe even, for a strong, social revolution. He planned to ruin Lenin’s, and Lenin’s successors, quite openly-announced intent to “bolshevize” Europe with the support of Asia. He wanted to avoid the Occident sinking into various types of Marxism. A social reconstruction can only happen within the framework of a nation, a people’s union (Volksgemeinschaft), and not by means of an international, splitting-and-class-struggling Marxism. A socialism based on Marxism divides the nation completely, meaning it destroys the only possible carrier of social thinking.
We have seen where this divide leads: to the party pettiness of Social Democrats, Independents and all the way to the Communists. But exactly the same applies to the errors of Liberalism. Both cannot be the expression of our century; it would be a relapse worse than during the rule of the Bourbons. Only the synthesis of nation and socialism is meaningful for us and our century.
Stalin and Britain destabilize the Balkans
Adolf Hitler continued to talk. He said: “Behind Stalin’s cold, hard demands, expressed by Molotov during his visit to Berlin in (November) 1940, stood an increasingly obvious military threat at our Eastern border – the Eastern border of Europe. At first, 150 Russian divisions faced a thin veil of German forces. Stalin’s marching armies could have cut us off at any time from raw materials necessary for carrying on the war. By that, he was in a favorable situation to wait and re-arm and negotiate with the Western powers.”
Had we still been bitterly involved in a fight with England, Stalin’s price would have been even higher – a price Hitler was not willing to pay. It was different with the Allies – any price, which the rest of Europe would have to pay, would have been accepted by the Western gangsters. In their blindness, they recognized only one goal: Germany’s destruction – the French with Richelieu’s ideas, the British with their balance of power policy 9, the rest with senseless hate!
When we did not attack England – because good sense and European responsibility forbade it – Stalin started trying to dissolve the Balkan states. He tried to ignite a putsch that would create a chaotic situation in Romania; the conditions favored him because Italy plunged the Balkans into restlessness. New warfare areas were to be developed to split our strengths.
When (Hitler) tried hard to win over the Balkans for a common Europe – or at least to calm it down, neutralize it – the Italians attacked Greece without letting us know. A senseless adventure! He was confronted with that madness when he arrived in Florence after the disappointing meetings at Hendaye and Montoire.10
The Italians couldn’t even hold on to their own Cyrenaica! Their attack on Greece was unsuccessful not because of unfavorable weather, but more so because of the courageous defense of the Greeks. Naturally, one also has to consider that the Italian attack was brought on by the deliberate snub and break of neutrality by Greece.
A typical English infamy lurked behind all that: to expand the war, to create a new war theater and distract from their island empire, England landed troops in Crete and, at the same time, on Greek territory – nearly 70,000 soldiers of their elite units.
At first, he (Hitler) thought the decision (Mussolini’s) to attack Greece had its roots in the reminiscing of their Roman empire, but today he knows of the intentions of the sly Ciano.11 He never trusted him and is convinced the fateful decision the Duce made was influenced by his cunning nepotist. He now must have feared that Yugoslavia, pressed by England and Russia, would take over the role Czechoslovakia once played. He was relieved when he was able to sign the treaty in the spring of 1941, hoping he could protect his Southern flank.
It turned out differently – a few days later the putsch occurred in Belgrade. Here again, although hidden, the combined effort of the English and Russian leadership stage managed that revolt. The Yugoslavian government was toppled and its forces were mobilized against Germany.
As it became necessary in 1940 to protect our Northern flank all the way up to the North Cape for reasons of the raw material situation, he now has to secure the Southern flank, against his intentions, for the same reason. The Balkan became a new war theater for us – a new front emerged. Troops and forces were tied up; casualties of men and materiel occurred; valuable – yes very decisive time – elapsed. We would experience that bitterly.
In the meantime, a threatening readiness of Russian divisions and armies at the German and Romanian east borders took place. No hesitation was possible. Our preventive stroke met battle-ready armies of the Soviets. Our attack did not surprise the Russian leadership.12 On the contrary, we were surprised by the deeply-stacked Russian forces, the strength of their artillery, and especially their incredible mass of tanks: the robust, battle-proven T 34s.
With that attack, not only the two-front war, which he tried to avoid, but an all-sided battle began. He always expressed the opinion that we never should have allowed ourselves to be involved in such a situation. The Napoleonic Russian campaign stood, menacing and terrorizing, in front of his eyes: “Don’t you doubt that I carefully considered all phases and events Napoleon had to experience in Russia,” Hitler said. “Why then, still, our attack? We were condemned to that struggle, it was our fate. What we still could decide on our own was when to attack. But even the choice of our most favorable moment did not depend on our decision.
"Especially after the development at the Balkans and the Russian threat, there was no hope left to attack the English island; to strike England and Gibraltar was blocked for us. Suez would have made sense only in connection with Gibraltar.
"Time was against us. By all means we had to try to avoid an extended war. When England staked all its hopes on the Red Army, for us only one possibility remained: to eliminate that Red Army and force the Western Powers into peace, before America’s interference, with all its consequences, occurred. In order to avoid a multiple-front war, that Red Army had to be conquered within a foreseeable time.”
Another viewpoint had influenced his decision: it was equally important for Germany and Europe’s future to confront the Bolshevik threat. We could not confine ourselves to the defense of merely the German territory. Only by a preventive stroke could we succeed in carrying the campaign into the vast regions of Russia.
There was no doubt that it would be a struggle to exist or not to exist. That struggle could only be fought by a solid unity and the hard, unshakable will of the German people (Volk). “I repeat what I said at the beginning of the war,” Hitler continued. “If we acquire that solidarity, then our strong will, our unity should overcome any peril. But in that, the solidarity, I misjudged. I underestimated the reactionary. The bearers of that treason never recognized the meaning and destiny of that battle for Germany and for Europe.
1) The Danzig Corridor was Hitler’s demand for a land bridge (narrow passageway) through Polish territory to connect Germany with its landlocked province of East Prussia.
2) Wilson’s 14 Points called for self-determination of peoples living in disputed territories, but this was not applied to Germans.
3) Marshall Jozef Pilsudski signed a 10 year peace pact with Hitler in 1934 – the German-Polish Pact of Nonaggression. Pilsudski was an ethnic Lithuanian from an aristocratic, polonized family. As a young man, he was involved in radical socialist politics against the Tsarist authorities, even carrying out bank and train raids to fund a revolutionary army. After 1918, he fought against Russian Bolshviks and became a leader of the newly formed Poland. He died in 1935.
4) To keep the door open for talks with Hitler’s Germany
5) Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact of August 23, 1939
6) The failed 1944 Valkyrie plot
7) The Polish ambassador Lipski did not meet the ultimatum that Hitler had set. Lipski was acting by order of his minister of foreign affairs, Col. Beck, who was backed up by the British government.
8) A direct vote of the entire electorate to determine their preference of rule – German or Polish.
9) Cardinal Richelieu wanted France as the dominant power in Europe. Britain’s Balance of Power policy wanted to prevent any single nation gaining control over Europe.
10) Hitler met General Franco in Hendaye in order to persuade him to join Germany in the war, or at least to support him in the effort to take Gibralter. Franco stalled, which made Hitler very upset. He was disappointed. His meeting with Marshal Petain at Montoire stabilized the relationship with the Vichy Government.
11) Conte Galeazo Ciano was Mussolini's son-in-law, and was later charged and hung for high treason.
12) Even though he was presented with the exact timing of the invasion from different sources, such as Sorge in Tokyo and British intelligence, the suspicious Stalin would not believe it and adjust his attack plans.
Giesler: “Until the last massive snub by the Polish leadership at the end of August 1939, he couldn’t imagine that they would let it come to a fight.”
Adolf Hitler and Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck meet together in 1937 when relations were still fairly good. By August 1939, Beck was ignoring Hitler’s requests to talk about their common borders and Hitler’s main concern that could wait no longer – Danzig.
The Germans, on August 29, made a new offer to negotiate with Poland. By this offer, they were telling the world that they preferred diplomacy to war. The Poles, by refusing this offer to talk, told the world that they favored war. British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, by refusing to encourage the Poles to negotiate, also favored war. What Halifax did encourage was for the Hitler government to believe that the Poles were willing to talk, when he knew they were not.
On the 28th, Beck informed the British he would not negotiate without an explicit statement from Hitler that Germany had abandoned Danzig once and for all, and that she would never again seek to improve her transit communications to East Prussia through the Polish Corridor. This, however, was not relayed to the Germans.
A note given from Hitler’s government to the British Ambassador to Germany, Nevile Henderson, at 7:15 p.m. on August 29, stated that Hitler wished the British Government to advise Poland to send an emissary to Berlin on the following day, Wednesday, August 30th. He emphasized that urgency was required by the pressure of events, and he wished the British to know that Germany expected the arrival of a representative from Poland not later than midnight on August 30th. Hitler assured Henderson that he would negotiate with Poland on a basis of full equality. Henderson assured Halifax that the terms would be moderate. Henderson also urged Polish Ambassador to Germany Jozef Lipski, before midnight on August 29th that his country could and should send a special envoy to Berlin the following day. Lipski informed Beck and Beck called in Britain’s Ambassador to Poland Hugh Kennard.
Kennard was extremely anti-German, as was his boss Halifax. Therefore, Kennard did not advise Beck to stop the Polish mobilization scheduled for that morning, August 30, and went so far as to advise him to reject Hitler’s offer, even though his own government had dishonestly assured Germany two days before that Poland was prepared to negotiate.
Nevile Henderson Lord Halifax
On the morning of August 30, Henderson messaged Halifax that midnight August 30 was not an unconditional deadline and Berlin was not an unconditional location - the Hitler government was willing to accommodate the Poles in this regard as long as an assurance of a desire to negotiate was made. But by that afternoon, the general Polish mobilization notices had been posted throughout Poland and Beck had issued an “Orwellian” communiqué stating that Poland had supported all efforts for peace by Allies or neutrals, but their efforts had brought no reaction from Germany. Still, Hitler, Goering and Ribbentrop continued to hope that the Poles would yet send an emissary to Berlin – and even into the morning of the 31st.
As it turned out, Beck had sent instructions to Lipski shortly before noon to accept no proposals and enter into no negotiations with the German Government. This became known when the telegram was intercepted and decoded by Goering’s special investigation office. Saying his conscience was now clear as he had done his best for months under trying circumstances, Hitler issued the final invasion order in the early afternoon of August 31st.
The Polish refusal to discuss a settlement with Germany on any terms, and the insult of no reply from either Britain or Poland to Hitler’s final offer, was the “massive snub.”
Giesler: “–a few days later the putsch occurred in Belgrade. Here again, although hidden, the combined effort of the English and Russian leadership stage managed that revolt.”
Yugoslavia’s anti-Russian regent Prince Paul rides with Adolf Hitler in March 1941 when he agreed to join the Tripartite Pact (Berlin-Rome-Tokyo). The Balkan now seemed secure since Bulgaria also signed, and Hungary and Rumania were already partners. Hitler was aware of the danger of military operations by the West via a thrust from the Mediterranean towards Greece, Albania or Trieste. Two days after Yugoslavia’s formal signing of the Pact in Vienna on March 25, Paul’s regime was toppled in a military coup led by Serbian General Dusan Simovich, but initiated and planned by British officers, and certainly with the encouragement and knowledge (if not active help) of the Soviets.
Deploying the Waffen SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division from the Russian front and Gebirgsjaeger mountain divisions from Austria, Hitler attacked both Yugoslavia and Greece hard on April 6. Simovich and the newly installed pro-British King Peter fled the country, ending up in England in June. On April 10, the nation of Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia and allied itself with Germany. Yugoslavia capitulated on April 17. The British invasion troops fled to Crete, Cyprus and finally to Egypt.
On June 2, Greece collapsed after a tough battle in which Austrian mountain battalions played a decisive role. Three or four Gebirgsjaegerdivisons accomplished a remarkable feat, first by arriving there so quickly, and then by successfully climbing around behind the Thermopylae Pass in the rocky Greek hills, carrying their equipment (guns, ammunition, food) on mules and small horses, with some motorized vehicles. Along with a shortage of water in the great heat, they met heavy resistance from the Greek Army. General Ferdinand Schoerner, pictured below, a Bavarian from Munich and the last chief of the German Army in 1945, commanded the 4th Gebirgsjaegerdivision and became the “Conquerer of the Acropolis.”
It was a complete victory for the Axis forces, but it delayed the invasion of the Soviet Union, which may have been a fatal stroke in that war.
General Ferdinand Schoerner, with the Acropolis in the background.
Giesler: “England’s diplomats had already tried to strengthen the encirclement by adding Russia’s power.”
Sir Stafford Cripps, an ardent Marxist, made the Time cover on Nov. 10, 1946. In spite of being expelled from his own labor Party in early 1939 for organizing a Popular Front of Liberals, Laborites and Communists to try to bring down the Chamberlain Government, he offered his services to that government at the outbreak of war. He was ignored, but the next thing Britain knew, he was on a trip around the world, calling on Molotov, Nehru and Roosevelt. Some speculated he was on a secret mission for the Chamberlain Government, the objective of which was to get Stalin to sign a mutual defense pact with Britain. Others believed it was Churchill, who later appointed Cripps to be his Ambassador to Moscow, who arranged the trip. But was this his real mission? Or was it to drag out talks and negotiations with Britain in the hope that either Hitler or Stalin would start their war and bleed each other to the advantage of Great Britain?
On this issue, historians are still divided; pertinent documents are still locked in secret archives. Stalin may have become suspicious of Britain’s game because he suddenly invited the Germans to send a plenipotentiary emissary to Moscow. Hitler sent Ribbentropp and they signed the Molotov-Ribbentropp non-aggression pact on August 23, 1939.
In one of his last meetings with Cripps, Stalin told him, “I never detected a desire in German politicians to absorb a European country. I do not believe the Soviet Union is threatened by German military successes.” Source: Rolf Dieter Mueller, Der 2.Weltkrieg 1939-1945 Band 21, Verlag Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart, 2004.