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

No. 1777

Sir: I have the honor to report upon the course of events leading to the fall of the Brüning Government, together with my personal interpretations. It may have some historical interest.

Beginning about Wednesday, the 25th of May, rumors began to circulate in Berlin that all was not well in the relationship between the Chancellor and the Reich President, and yet in the most responsible official quarters each and every such report was categorically denied.

The Reich President was then in Neudeck, his estate in East Prussia beyond the Polish Corridor, having gone there for a visit as he often does. He lives there among many old friends of the Junkers, or large land owners of the former aristocracy, with whom during pre-war times and since he has had close and intimate relations.

His association with these old friends did not raise suspicions of any change in attitude toward Brüning, although the latter’s reliance on Socialist support for his political power has always been a source of annoyance to the Junkers, because there was nothing abnormal in the President’s visit in that section.

It was only after the President’s return to Berlin had been announced for Sunday, May 29th, when I heard that Meissner, the official secretary of the President, who lives in a part of the Presidential palace and has constant contact with the old gentleman, was suddenly leaving for Neudeck, that I began to feel that there was something going on in governmental circles that was sub rosa.

Meissner is very clever, but I knew that some people—and I fancy I must include Dr. Brüning among them—have not entertained complete confidence in his sincerity. His antecedents are of the Army and the old regime. Colonel von Hindenburg, the President’s son, an officer in the Reichswehr, who lives with the President and is assigned as his adjutant, is also accredited in the public mind as exercising great influence with his father and with berns? decidedly anti-Socialistic. In view of these two powers behind the scene, the sudden trip of Meissner to Neudeck just two days before von Hindenburg’s [Page 301] announced return, raised some question in my mind as to its purpose.

On Saturday night, May 28th, I attended the annual dinner of the Foreign Press Association, at which Dr. Brüning spoke. In talking with him privately after the dinner, he told me of certain plans he had for attending the Lausanne Conference, and then, certainly as an afterthought and clearly perfunctorily, added “Of course my movements are dependent on my receiving from the President tomorrow on his return public assurance of his complete confidence.” I mention this to indicate that as late as Saturday night Brüning had little doubt that the next day his position would be thoroughly assured, and while he intimated that the President must put the Generals in their places, he expected his full cooperation and he had no real suspicion of the extent of the intrigues which surrounded him. On the following Monday, the 30th, he called me to his office at 10.30 in the morning (I being the only foreign diplomat whom he summoned) to tell me that his request had been refused and that nothing remained but his immediate resignation. His surprise and chagrin at the outcome of his conversation with the aged President was quite evident.

Looking back on the events that preceded the fall of the Government, the difficulties in the Army that resulted in the resignation of General Groener as Minister of War, rather plainly point to the existence of a definite plan among the military chiefs to force the overthrow of the Government and bring about a change in German internal politics.

In this connection I enclose an article from the Manchester Guardian, of June 7th, covering the situation.21

The conclusion formed in my own mind from the foregoing events, which may be of chief interest to the Department, is that the change thus brought about represents a definite challenge on the part of the land owning class and the big industrialists to the power of the German trade unions, which have established and maintained the principle of the fixation of wages by law or government decree, and other elements of paternalism that tend to lessen private ownership’s control of their own properties. The Department may recall from previous despatches from this Embassy (see No. 496, September 23, 1930,22 at the bottom of page three) that as far back as the general elections of September, 1930, which so spectacularly increased the strength of Hitler, it seemed clear that certain big industrialists were giving him financial support. Although this policy might well have [Page 302] seemed to be playing with fire, far from being dismayed at the rapid growth of the Nazi power, this industrialist support appears to have increased rather than diminished. (See despatch No. 1663, of April 20, 1932.)23 I am also told that Otto Wolff, one of the principal independent German steel manufacturers, is also a large financial backer of Hitler’s party.

The motives inducing this policy would likewise naturally appeal to the land owning class; and I am of the opinion that these large landowners and industrialists, feeling that during the two years’ tenure of office of Dr. Brüning their efforts to prevail upon him to curb the power of the trade unions had borne no fruit—and would not as long as he remained in office dependent upon the support of the Socialist Party—determined that the time had come for a showdown.

The method pursued took advantage of the discontent among the officers in the Army over the support given by the Brüning Cabinet to the theses of labor unions and socialist policies, and under the redoubtable leadership of von Schleicher, the political strong man of the officer corps, engineered the coup d’état which was responsible for the Government’s fall.

Respectfully yours,

Frederic M. Sackett