The Chargé in Germany (Gordon) to the Secretary of State

No. 2279

Sir: With reference to my telegrams No. 52 of March 29 and No. 54 of March 30, and to recent telephone conversations with the Undersecretary of State, more especially the one this morning (Washington time), I have the honor to give you the following sketch of the very rapidly shifting events of the last week.

Although the idea of a boycott of Jewish stores had already been in process of formulation, the general situation at the close of the week of March 25 had seemed to be becoming so much more quiet and stabilized that it was hoped that the declaration of this country-wide boycott would not take place.

However, the Göring and Göbbels wing of the Nazi Party determined that it should be put through; these leaders, having for years excited their followers with anti-Semitic fulminations and promises of the pleasure and profit to be derived from the physical and material mistreatment of Jews, apparently felt that these followers could not forever be prevented from demanding some materialization of these promises and that the present occasion was too good a one to lose.

That the leaders of this wing of the Nazis were deliberately forcing the issue seems apparent from the fact that they based their action on the pretext of an “atrocity propaganda” abroad against Germany—or rather the actions of the new régime—especially in England and America, when to the best of one’s knowledge here anything which might have constituted “atrocity propaganda”, in the shape of exaggerated press reports abroad, had been gradually and consistently dying down throughout the preceding week or ten days. Unable to withstand this drive for direct action, Hitler acquiesced therein, stipulating however that the proclamation of the boycott should specify that it be conducted under the direction of responsible local committees and with discipline and order.

The conservative elements—relatively speaking—in the present Government, realizing what an adverse effect upon Germany in world opinion the application of this strange measure would have, at once set about to find some means of preventing it. As these moderate elements—outside of Hitler himself whose hands, as indicated above, were largely tied—consist of the Nationalist fraction of the Government, their struggle with the Nazi Party, which in this instance was thoroughly dominated by its radical wing, took on greater intensity and acerbity as a result of the Stahlhelm-Nazi clash in Brunswick, reported in my telegram No. 52, supra.

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The conflict appears to have reached its peak on Friday last.

The Department is aware from my telephone conversations what efforts the Foreign Minister made to secure action in Washington and London which would strengthen his hands. It is common report that at one of the several Cabinet meetings held that day he insisted upon resigning but that President von Hindenburg and even Hitler, thoroughly disturbed by his action, induced him to reconsider. I personally can testify that the Foreign Minister was visibly under great pressure that day and gave every evidence of the stress of the conflict which was going on.

For his part, von Papen is reported to have exerted every effort to enlist the President’s active aid in the struggle and to induce him to declare martial law if the boycott should be put into effect and persisted in.

On its part, the Göring-Göbbels faction pressed for action in such determined manner that, as the Department is aware, Friday evening Hitler was forced to declare that the plan for the projected boycott had been so fully developed that it was then too late to stop its application throughout the country at such short notice.

There is of course considerable comment to the effect—and the inference is certainly permissible—that Hitler feared that if he ordered the S.A. detachments, on the very eve of the day they were all keyed up to enjoying as one of pleasant and safe bullying and intimidation of the Jews, to desist therefrom, there would have been a large measure of refusal to obey his orders—which is of course a risk he can not run.

There is reason to believe that in one of their projected manifestos accompanying the inauguration of the boycott, the Nazis proposed using the name of President von Hindenburg without having duly consulted him beforehand. Whether or not it was this that enraged the aged President, or whether von Papen—who for some little time thitherto had seemed to be losing some measure of his influence—was able to persuade him that he should no longer hold aloof as he had recently appeared to do (his acquiescence in the Empowering Law—see despatch No. 2265 of March 2413a—which took away from him even the prerogative of countersigning executive decrees, certainly indicated a tendency to disclaim responsibility for the acts of this Nazi controlled Government), at all events, the President appears to have once more definitely asserted his authority against a course of action destined to bring so much discredit upon his country.

The net result of the foregoing was the decision to apply the boycott throughout the day on Saturday, April 1st, and thereafter to discontinue it until Wednesday morning, April 5th, its resumption to depend [Page 349] upon the reaction abroad. This latter, of course, is a facesaver for the proponents of the boycott, even if it should eventually not be resumed.

Color to the foregoing exposition of events is lent by the fact that the declarations of Minister of Propaganda Göbbels, and other leading boycott advocates, concerning the resumption of the boycott with greater intensity than ever on Wednesday if in the meantime the alleged “atrocity propaganda” abroad does not abate in such measure as they deem satisfactory, have in the last two days grown consistently milder in tone.

As I said to Mr. Phillips over the telephone today, the chances at the moment seem to be at least as good as even that the boycott will not be resumed on Wednesday—though I hasten to add that this estimate may have to be corrected by cable before this despatch is well advanced on its way to the Department.

In fact I realize that the foregoing, together with my various cables of the last ten days, may well give the impression of a point of view changing almost from day to day, but I can assure the Department that this is exactly what the situation has been doing, and in this despatch I have tried to give the Department a picture of the situation as I see it today, pieced together from all the sources at the Embassy’s command. Some of the items entering into the makeup of this picture I have been able to confirm; many more—including secondhand reports of various conversations with some of the personalities above mentioned, or with their close associates—it has been impossible to confirm; but I have rejected all so-called information which seemed devoid of plausibility or unsusceptible of even collateral collaboration.

If I may venture a general reflection in closing, it is this:

By an ordinary absolute standard the Germany of today as reflected by the present régime is unregenerate and insatiable. To make my point clear I may say that in normal times I do not believe that the average statesman in the world of western civilization would, for instance, consider Hugenberg—leader of the Nationalist Party, now the moderate co-partner in the present Government—a sound and reasonable political leader. When internal conditions are somewhat stabilized, this régime may be expected to make itself very troublesome in the field of foreign affairs: treaty revision—to the point of frontier rectification—question of colonies, change of status of Germany’s foreign debt, et cetera. There are, however, degrees of relativity even in the chauvinistic Nationalism which is now triumphant, and the chief concern of the moment is that the comparatively moderate elements should not be swept out of existence in the same fashion as were—to all present intents and purposes—Dr. Brüning and General von Schleicher, to mention no others.

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To the rank and file of the “rough and ready” S.A. detachments, Hitler is already a figure who has become somewhat remote and has to a certain extent lost his contact with them as a result of his necessary mingling with the more polite official world; they look primarily for leadership to Göring and his, at present, ardent supporter Göbbels. The radical element composed of these leaders and their followers is, in my opinion, animated by the same ruthless Prussian spirit, blind to and reckless of world public opinion, which manifested itself in such startling fashion two decades ago, as, for instance, in the inauguration of unrestricted submarine warfare. If this faction is for the moment checked, it is only unremitting vigilance and an application of brute force which will keep it under restraint, for this latter quality is what it deems the summum bonum and the only one to which it really responds.

Respectfully yours,

George A. Gordon
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