The Swiss Minister ( Sulzer ) to the Secretary of State

Sir: I have the honor to transmit to your Excellency, upon instructions of my Government, the following communication from the German Government:16

“To the American, English, French, and Italian Governments:

The conditions of the armistice most seriously threaten the economic conditions of the left bank of the Rhine and the relations of said left bank to the part of Germany situated on the right bank of the Rhine. Unless it is possible, by means of interpretation and supplementation, to make the most extensive clarification of a mitigating character, it [Page 35] will be impossible for us to continue to exist in view of the close economic connection between the left bank of the Rhine and the rest of Germany, and it is almost certain that the calm development which is beginning to proceed here will be immediately upset again. We shall then head toward incalculable and more or less Bolshevistic conditions, which may even become dangerous to the neighboring nations.

In order to prevent this, we deem a mitigation of the conditions and the determination of the practical execution thereof on the following points to be urgently necessary:

A general understanding to the effect that the normal economic intercourse on the left bank of the Rhine and all the normal connections of an economic nature between the left bank of the Rhine, the rest of Germany, and foreign countries shall not be disturbed even during the military occupation.
Separate stipulations in regard to the following most important points:
Permission of the German owners to operate the coal, potash, and ore mines on the left bank of the Rhine within the old imperial territory in the manner hitherto in vogue.
Permission to transport the mined coal, ores, and potash up and down the Rhine and across the Rhine into the part of Germany situated on the right bank of the Rhine.
General free utilization of the Rhine for transportation within the old German imperial boundaries.
Permission of free navigation via Rotterdam and along the coast for the purpose of supplying Germany via the coast of the North Sea and the Baltic with coal, potash, foodstuffs, etc.
Continuation of the industrial enterprises on the left bank of the Rhine for the benefit of the rest of Germany.
Free railroad traffic in the occupied territory.
Furnishing of electric energy from the left to the right bank of the Rhine.
Discharged military recruits on the left bank of the Rhine shall not be taken as prisoners of war even if they still wear uniform.
The civil and military offices of every kind on the left bank of the Rhine shall be permitted to continue to operate.
Merchandise of any kind shall be requisitioned within the occupied territory only to the extent absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the garrisoning troops.
Telephonic, telegraphic, and postal communications of the occupied territory with the right bank of the Rhine as well as with foreign neutral countries shall be free.
Permission to convey food and forage of any kind from the left to the right bank of the Rhine.

The customs frontier shall be understood as being the old imperial boundary including Luxemburg, which belongs to the German Customs Union, as stipulations of a legal character will be made only in the treaty of peace. The duties shall therefore be collected on the old imperial boundary by German customs officials on account of the Empire.

Furthermore, the German export, transit, and import embargoes shall be handled on this frontier by German officials according to German regulations.

[Page 36]

Furthermore we must emphatically point out that the surrender of 500 [5,000?] locomotives and 150,000 cars in the present condition of our rolling stock will make it impossible for us to supply the cities with food, coal, etc., even within modest limits. We should be unable to guarantee the supply even for one week, and inasmuch as conditions are alike in the east, west, north, and south, we must expect hunger riots to occur simultaneously in all parts of the Empire owing to difficulties of transportation, and the consequences thereof would be incalculable.

Finally, the result of a continuance of the blockade, especially in the Baltic Sea, would be that not only the transportation from the North, which is so necessary to our industry, but also the transportation of German coal and iron to the North, which is so indispensable to Scandinavia, would no longer be possible, and the German and Scandinavian industry dependent thereon would have to reduce operations if not entirely stop. But what seems still more serious is the complete paralysis of the North Sea and Baltic Sea fisheries which would occur if the blockade were continued. We have instructed our representatives at Spa to discuss the foregoing urgent wishes with the representatives of the Allied Governments, though they have no full powers to negotiate in this regard.

In view of the serious danger which threatens us as a result of the oppressive armistice conditions, we beg you to indicate to us, by return mail if possible, a place where our representatives may meet with duly empowered representatives of the Allied Governments in order to discuss the above questions. As the transportation question on both land and water is becoming graver every day and the returning troops threaten to dissolve all organization, we beg that no time be lost to the end that we may be in a position to continue to maintain order as hitherto.

(Signed) Solf,
Secretary of State in the Foreign Office.”

Accept [etc.]

Hans Sulzer
  1. The following is a translation of the German text quoted by the Minister; the file translation has been revised. The substance of this message was transmitted to Colonel House in telegram No. 123, Dec. 4, 1918, 4 p.m. A translation of part of this note was also received by radio on Nov. 18, 1918 (file No. 763.72119/2624½a).