The Ambassador in Germany (Sackett) to the Secretary of State

No. 990

Sir: I have the honor to report the chronological order of events with reference to the procuring of message from President von Hindenburg to President Hoover.

Your telephone call was received at approximately 3.30 p.m. on June 20, 1931, and appointment immediately made with the Chancellor for 5.15.

Accompanied by Mr. Gordon,43 I saw the Chancellor and explained the purpose that I had in view. He exhibited great appreciation as well as relief from the severe strain as soon as I delivered my message. I told the Chancellor at the beginning that Mr. Hoover was taking a serious step, not only in foreign politics, but which might have immediate repercussions in internal political life and that he felt it was necessary to have the authority of the highest official of the State behind him as to the conditions which Germany was facing and that he needed the letter to be used and published if necessary and I did not know under what conditions he might have to publish the same, but that such was the purport of the message I had received. I explained the nature of the message desired and that it must be in Washington in the morning. The Chancellor asked permission to call in Bulow, who came, and I repeated again the message that I had received. The Chancellor explained that Hindenburg was at Neudeck in East Prussia, but that in spite of the difficulties and rapidity required he would undertake to get up the kind of letter I suggested and take it up by telephone with the President. A further meeting was arranged with the Chancellor at 9.30 p.m. to go over [Page 40] the situation. With Mr. Gordon I called at the Foreign Office at that hour and was met by Billow, who stated that the letter, prepared in the rough, had been in principle approved by the President and that the Chancellor had complete authority to turn the same over to me, but that it was not yet ready. However, he read an English translation of that part of the letter at that time completed and translated the balance as best he could. We felt they seemed to have grasped the general idea of what was needed.

Bülow then stated that as soon as the translation was complete and the message written and finally approved by the President, he would call at the Chancery with Dr. Dieckhoff, of the Foreign Office, and go over the matter again. Mr. Gordon and I returned to the Chancery to busy ourselves with the first telegram stating that we had seen the rough draft and thought it on the whole satisfactory. Soon after we finished sending this message Bülow and Dieckhoff arrived at the Chancery with the complete German text, together with a complete English translation made by the Foreign Office, which was read to Mr. Gordon and myself and turned over to us without restriction of any kind. With it they repeated a message of the deep and sincere appreciation from the Chancellor personally and as representative of the German Government of the step that Mr. Hoover was to announce on Sunday morning. The letter was immediately encoded in its English text and left the Chancery about two o’clock a.m.

The following day, Sunday, I was called about twelve o’clock by Enderis, of the New York Times, who said he wanted to inquire what this was about President Hindenburg having sent a telegram to President Hoover. This was the first intimation to me that any leakage had taken place in regard to the letter. I replied to Enderis that as he knew I was always glad to furnish such information on international affairs as was compatible with the public interest, but in view of the importance of President Hoover’s action which was then in the press, I hoped that he would not ask me any questions of any kind on any subject, as my lips were sealed in the present instance. This he accepted in the spirit in which it was given and willingly withdrew any question.

At two o’clock on Sunday, June 21st, I went to luncheon at the Chancellor’s residence, in accordance with an invitation received on Saturday morning (before this debt-reparation question had come up) given in honor of Sir Walter Lay ton, English economist. I found there the principal figures of the German Government, some twenty-eight in all. The tone of the entire group was most optimistic and eulogistic of President Hoover and congratulatory for themselves. After luncheon was over, and while the whole group were in the garden, the Foreign Minister, Curtius, and Bülow joined [Page 41] me and Curtius said to me that in some way the fact that President Hindenburg had sent a telegram to President Hoover had leaked out to the press and he was being beseiged for a copy of the communication and that he did not know how he was going to be able to avoid the matter and asked if I had any suggestions. I said to him and Bülow that if such a situation arose in America our reply to the press would be: “In the case of a serious communication from a high official of our Government to that of another we would feel, as the senders, the obligation of not giving out such a private communication, as it would be the rule of courtesy in such matters to leave publication or exposition of the matter in the hands of the party to whom it was sent,” and I asked him if such a reply would not be effective in their instance. Curtius immediately grasped at the idea and thought that was the way to handle it and would be governed accordingly. No other comment on the matter was made at the time and neither Mr. Gordon, who was present at all conferences, except the interview in the garden, nor myself had any intimation that there was to be the slightest restriction on the use of the letter that was sent.

On receiving your No. 86, June 21, 2 p.m., on Monday morning, the 22nd, I got in touch with Undersecretary of State Bülow by telephone and explained to him that if it should appear necessary to the President to make the Hindenburg message public it would be indicated that it had been requested and would be used to extend and explain the President’s action. Bülow replied that he entirely endorsed this plan of procedure. It was during this conversation that he said it was probable that the leak could be charged to a high official of the German Government—probably a cabinet officer.

Dr. Dieckhoff asked Mr. Gordon to call on him at the Foreign Office on Tuesday morning and inquired if it was our expectation that a further formal communication would be made to the German Government with respect to the President’s proposal, and in what way it would seem best for the German Government formally to signify its acceptance thereof. Mr. Gordon replied that he doubted if there would be any further communication and suggested that the German Chargé d’Affaires could inquire at the State Department if any such would be forthcoming and, if not, could thereupon make a formal statement of his Government’s position. Dr. Dieckhoff said that he also thought that was the best course and that it would be followed.

Dr. Dieckhoff read to Mr. Gordon a telegram from the German Chargé d’Affaires in Washington, in which the latter referred to his Government’s instructions concerning restrictions on the publication of President Hindenburg’s message to President Hoover, in pursuance [Page 42] of which he had requested the State Department not to publish it separately and apart from the President’s proposal. Mr. Gordon interjected that it had been made clear to both the Ambassador and himself that no restrictions existed when the message was delivered at the Chancery for transmission. Dr. Dieckhoff smiled and said: “Of course there were not; that’s just where the misunderstanding arose.”

Since receiving the Secretary’s message No. 87, June 22, 1 p.m., setting out the chronological order of these events in Washington, I have had no further conversations with the German Government on the subject.

Respectfully yours,

Frederic M. Sackett
  1. George A. Gordon, Counselor of Embassy.