The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Henderson) to the Secretary of State

No. 2182

Sir: With reference to my confidential despatch No. 2085 of November 19, 1936,42 to which was attached a memorandum setting forth a conversation between the German Ambassador43 and myself with regard to the arrest of German citizens in the Soviet Union, I now have the honor to transmit herewith a memorandum42 containing certain information relating to the same subject furnished to me by a Secretary of the German Embassy.

From the information obtained from this Secretary as well as remarks made on several occasions by the German Ambassador, himself, and other members of the German Embassy, I have obtained the distinct impression that the German Ambassador is moving slowly and cautiously in his efforts to protect the interests of the thirty-four German nationals who have been arrested during the last two months. The German Embassy apparently realizes that if the Soviet Government is made to feel that the final disposition of the prisoners is a matter of prestige, the German Government will be able to do little on their behalf.

Although the Germany Embassy has endeavored to present an outward appearance of calm, it is plain that it considers that the treatment to which German citizens in the Soviet Union are being subjected at the present time is a matter of the utmost seriousness. One of the counselors of the German Embassy informed me in the middle of December that the German Embassy was preparing to send out a warning to all German citizens to leave the Soviet Union informing them that if they intended to remain in that country the German Government could not take responsibility for their safety. He said that this warning had not as yet been broadcasted and would not be if the Soviet Government would show a tendency to moderate its present attitude towards German citizens. He added that the German [Page 321] Embassy had, however, advised a number of German engineers and representatives of German firms to return to Germany as soon as practicable.

He stated further that the question had been discussed of the desirability of breaking off German-Soviet relations in the event that German citizens should be executed following one or more farcical trials.44 It had been decided, however, that no matter how disagreeable the attitude of the Soviet Government might be towards German citizens residing in the Soviet Union or towards the German Embassy and German Consulates scattered throughout the country, the German Government, in view of the fact that the Soviet Union was an important factor in German foreign policies, had decided that it would be wiser to leave a diplomatic mission and consulates in the Soviet Union so long as it would be at all possible for them to carry on. The attitude displayed towards the Embassy and towards German Consulates in the Soviet Union indicated that the Soviet Government was perhaps hoping that the Consulates would be closed and that the Embassy staff would be drastically reduced. He pointed out that the recent treatment accorded by the Soviet Government towards Dr. Schiller, the German Agricultural Attaché, had of late become so disagreeable that it had been decided to withdraw Dr. Schiller and not to appoint a successor so long as German-Soviet relations were so unsatisfactory.

The question still remains unanswered as to why the Soviet Government at this time should apparently deliberately endeavor to increase the strain on German-Soviet relations by arresting so many German: citizens and by charging or at least insinuating that German officials had encouraged the arrested persons to engage in acts injurious to the Soviet State. Some of the foreign observers here who have been following Soviet developments for many years continue to advance the motives referred to in my despatch under reference, namely, that the Soviet Government feels that the time has come when some nation in Europe should take the lead in “calling Hitler’s bluff” and show that Nazi Germany is no more to be feared than any other European State. These and other competent observers in Moscow feel that a further reason for the arrests might be a desire on the part of the Soviet Government to stir up the Soviet public against Germany and the Germans so that in case of an outbreak of war there would be a real spontaneous feeling of hostility on the part of the Russian population. This Embassy is inclined to believe that both of these motives may be partly [Page 322] responsible for the arrests. It also considers that it is quite possible that the Soviet authorities feel that the German Government, through its representation and German citizens in the Soviet Union, has been able to keep itself too well informed regarding developments taking place in that country and that they are therefore taking energetic measures to cut all contacts between the German representation and the local Soviet population and to terrorize or get rid of German citizens who for one reason or another have continued to reside in the Soviet Union.

It seems probable that this decision was taken at a period when the Soviet Government felt that there was a possibility of its coming to an understanding with Japan on most of the important questions outstanding between the two countries. It remains to be seen whether or not, following the conclusion of the recent agreement between Japan and Germany and the consequent worsening of Japanese-Soviet relations, the Soviet Government may not adopt a more conciliatory attitude towards the German Embassy and consular offices and German citizens living on Soviet territory.

Respectfully yours,

Loy W. Henderson
  1. Not printed.
  2. Friedrich Werner, Count von der Schulenburg.
  3. Not printed.
  4. One of the defendants at the trial of the Kemerovo Mine Wreckers, held in Novosibirsk, November 19–21, 1936, had been the German citizen and engineer Emil Ivanovich Stueckling (Stickling). He had been condemned to be shot; but, following the intercession of the German Ambassador, the sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison.