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ING was appointed Field Marshal and thus became the senior officer of the armed forces.
Thus GOERING's and HIMMLER's desire to conquer the army for themselves had been warded off. But nevertheless the net result of these intrigues was very regrettable for the Armed Forces and the state. Up till then the Reichswehr Minister was charged with the responsibility for his field of jurisdiction. True, Herr von BLOMBERG had never seen this responsibility in a statesmanlike fashion, but had always felt himself a tool of the Party. But a self-respecting, energetic man in his office could have warded off much that was evil. Now the decision on the future of the army was exclusively up to HITLER and his creature, Generaloberst KEITEL.
It may be countered that the criticism of Herr von BLOMBERG is too severe, in view of his attitude towards HITLER's rearmament plans. Today's victors make it one of the principal charges of their accusation that we have consciously rearmed since 1934, and have prepared aggressive war; that we, as a nation, had welcomed that course, and had thereby acquired a share in the guilt for today's worldwide unhappiness. It may be countered that it is easy to criticize today, where one has consented at the time, and that it was only natural for a minister of war to welcome every possible chance to strengthen his armed forces. I have myself served for 25 years in many positions of the Royal Prussian Army and the general staff; I would be the last one to conceal the sincere joy which I experienced over every step which returned to us our full sovereignty over the armed protection of our country. The disarmament proclaimed at Versailles had met disgraceful disaster at Geneva. Our army of one hundred thousand men, without cannon, or aircraft, and with armored cars of cardboard, was not even sufficient to maintain order in the country, as reported to HINDENBURG 3 December 1932 by the then responsible Wehr Minister von SCHLEICHER. The introduction of compulsory military service guaranteed that our youth, in large part shiftless and demoralized (verlottert] through years of unemployment, would again have to be educated to order and discipline. The occupation of the demilitarized Rhineland zone was the reconquest of a natural sovereign right. Our withdrawal from the Geneva Conference was, finally, only the consequences of a peculiar game that had been played with us for years, and our conclusion, that the general restriction of armaments was nothing but a beautiful dream for Central Europe. Take only Hungary: it was not allowed one man or one
gun, while the surrounding Successor States (Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Serbia) were armed to the teeth.
But there is a difference as that between day and night between such armament as corresponded to Germany's geopolitical situation, to her desire of regaining her full sovereignty, and rearmament for aggressive war. As happy as I was over every step which put the fatherland back into the respected ranks of the family of European nations, so firmly was I convinced that no responsible statesman could think of repeating the experiment of 1914—which had cost us two millions dead and uncounted wounds and suffering. In the fall of 1937 I had the pleasure of a hunting trip with the former British Air Minister, Lord LONDONDERRY. I told him that the horrors of war had become so deeply imbedded in the German people's consciousness that no man could make them wage a new war, as long as the present generation was alive. That was my innermost conviction.
A minister of war in daily personal touch with HITLER must probably have seen more clearly than we, the outsiders, whither the war led. It was said that the then responsible chief of the general staff, Generaloberst BECK, had asked for and received his dismissal, because he clearly recognized that a war against Poland must result in the World War, which he considered a crime.
My criticism of Herr von BLOMBERG, and my later criticism of General KEITEL, who replaced him, brings out this item of their responsibility towards the German people.
On the fourth of February 1938 HITLER put an end to the crisis in the armed forces. But he simultaneously began another crisis, in order to divert attention from these embarrassing events. The effects of the new crisis were, perhaps, even more fatal for the history of the German people.
On the evening of that day I sat in my study in the Metternich Gasse, feeling no evil forebodings of any sort. About 9 o'clock a call from Berlin came through. “This is the Reich ChanceryState Secretary Dr LAMMERS”. “This is PAPEN”.
“The Fuehrer wants me to tell you that your mission to Vienna is finished. I
I regret to have to tell you this. But the Fuehrer intends to employ you in the near future in some other position."
“Can you give me any reason for this sudden decision? The Fuehrer could have said something about this to me last week, when I was in Berlin". "I regret I cannot tell you anything further".
I replaced the receiver. My surprise was vast. Then I discussed the news with my family, grouped about the fireplace.
I had grown fond of the job which had been assigned to me during the almost four years of my activity, of many setbacks and slow progress. How could it be otherwise? I had decided to go to Vienna because it was a matter of solving a problem of vital significance for the Reich; I had brushed all other considerations aside at Bayreuth. How difficult, almost humiliating, had the beginning been, when I thought back to those first months. I had the sensation of having done a good job. The good results of a patient, steady, open, and loyal policy were just then beginning to materialize. I had made friends. People had come to understand that I sought a solution for Austria which would embrace more than the interests of the Reich alone. And how had the international situation changed since those days of July 1934! The Austrian situation was actually no longer in the center of European politics. The world had gradually accustomed itself to viewing it as a domestic dispute between two cousins. Even MUSSOLINI had dismissed his ambassador, Signor SALATA, who was extremely opposed to any form of "Anschluss", and had replaced him with the adaptable
Now all this had come to a sudden end, and without any visible reason. We came to the conclusion that HITLER had enough of my policy. Probably the pressure of the Party on both sides (of the frontier) had become too strong, and HITLER saw the moment propitious for action. I was desolate, thinking of my work. But at least posterity should know that I had no part in this turn of the events. Therefore I called in my two secretaries, Herr von KETTELER and Baroness STETZINGEN that same night, and ordered them to select the most important of my reports to the Fuehrer during these four years. I wanted to deposit them somewhere in safety, so as to prove later on what policy I had conducted in Vienna.
The next morning I said good-bye to the gentlemen of my embassy, I thanked them for their devotion and co-operation. I told them that I had to leave them because my work no longer enjoyed the approval of the Party; but in their work they should always bear in mind, that the interests of the fatherland are above those of the Party. Prince ERBACH said a few kind words to mefor me and my family; I know that they came from the heart.
I wrote a note to the Austrian government, saying that I would soon bid farewell in person.
In the meantime the newspapers had published the fact that Herr von NEURATH had been replaced by Herr von RIBBENTROP as Foreign Minister. A new post had been found for Herr von NEURATH: President of the Secret Cabinet Council. And
three ambassadors had been relieved of their positions beside me, among whom were Herr von HASSELL at Rome and Herr von DIRKSEN at Tokyo.
The least comprehensible of these was the dismissal of HASSELL, one of our very best diplomats. I had become better acquainted with him and had come to appreciate him during the weeks when I was in Rome working on the Concordat with the Holy See. As highly as he held MUSSOLINI's work for the Italian people, he inclined against any alliance of the Reich with Italy. HITLER, of course, found the achievements of Fascism admirable and, perhaps, it was difficult to look behind the flashy facade which the Duce had erected. HASSELL had the perspicacity acquired during long years of diplomatic service, and could better tell real achievement from mere stage props, than the Nazis could. HASSELL stuck to the old motto: The strong man is never as powerful as when he stands alone. Good friendshipnothing more.
But HITLER thought of more. Therefore Herr von HASSELL had to go. It is a tragedy for our country that this excellent man became a victim of the 20 July 1944. The vastness of the tragedy of this our last 30 years becomes apparent, when one stops to consider that Grand Admiral von TIRPITZ' son-in-law has died on the gallows!
I took the next train for Salzburg, in order to bid HITLER farewell at his "Berghof", and to avert disaster in the Austrian affair, if possible. HITLER seemed absent-minded and preoccupied with something. He tried to cover up my dismissal with excuses. However, I told him that I regretted my leaving because I was convinced that my policy was the only right one; even the federal chancellor, I told HITLER, now desired a personal interview with the chief of the German Reich and hoped it would bring further understanding and clarification of views. When HITLER heard this, he suddenly showed intense interest. I told him of the many efforts to win Mr. SCHUSCHNIGG for such an interview in a spirit of mutual trust, which his reserved nature had heretofore opposed. I told HITLER that the federal chancellor had only during the last few days found his way clear to the view that an open exchange of sentiments could, at least, do no harm. HITLER pounced on this. "But that is splendid. I beg you, return immediately to Vienna and arrange with the federal chancellor for a meeting here during the next few days. I will be very happy to see him and discuss everything with him open-heartedly”.
I rejoined that this would be somewhat difficult in view of my dismissal, which had been published in the world press.
"That doesn't matter at all. I ask you to resume the conduct of the Embassy until our meeting has taken place.” Indeed a strange way to conduct foreign policy !
But actually I was very glad that I was still allowed to help bring the two extreme minds together. How good it would be to establish the policy of evolutionary growing-together of the two countries on a new basis of confidence!
Thus I took the next train back to Vienna, where I arrived 7 February to the great surprise of my family and my assistants. I immediately advised SCHUSCHNIGG of the mission assigned to me.
On 5 February the chancellor and government had been no less amazed than myself to learn of my unexpected resignation and of Herr von RIBBENTROP's ascension to the Foreign Ministry. Like me, they had evil forebodings. Thus it was not difficult to convince the chancellor that now was perhaps the last real chance to continue my political line. He accepted. The meeting was scheduled for 12 February.
It is not easy to describe the course of the historical conversation which took place on the "Berghof" on that day. HITLER had surrounded himself with his new advisers. For the first time I saw Herr von RIBBENTROP in his function as Foreign Minister, and I did not like it. Until then I had kept him strictly on the outside of the Austrian problem. Several officers were also present. There was the new Chief of the OKW, General KEITEL, attached to HITLER, the Commanding General of the Wehrkreis Munich, and General SPERRLE. This had something of the aspect of a military demonstration, a fact which made me uneasy. The federal chancellor was accompanied by several of his officials, and by Herr von GLAISE-HORSTENAU.
The greetings were very civil, but, of course, they lacked cordial tone. The two met for the first time. Before breakfast they had a long conversation in private, apparently examining the over-all situation. Then came the difficult part.
I had tried to persuade SCHUSCHNIGG to appoint another minister to his cabinet beside Herr von GLAISE, who was not very active. The new minister was to act as trusted liaison man between the two governments, able to work on innumerable problems directly without diplomatic intervention. This simplification would also bring the men on both sides of the fence closer together. Baron von KETTELER had always maintained intimate contact with a group of young Austrian National Socialists who, as we