The Ambassador in Poland (Cudahy) to the Secretary of State

No. 640

Sir: Referring to confidential telegram No. 23, March 22, 3 P.M.,58 I have the honor to report that pursuant to appointment I called today upon Minister for Foreign Affairs Colonel Józef Beck to discuss the matter of the attitude of Poland towards the announcement of universal military conscription in Germany.

Previous to the hour of my appointment the Minister telephoned that he was indisposed and would be forced to postpone the appointment but after being told that it was important that I see him he said he would see me. When I shook hands with him I was made aware that he had a temperature. His eyes showed the effect of fever and he coughed frequently during our interview.

In answer to my question the Minister stated that tomorrow Ambassador Lipski would make a statement to the German Government stressing the grave consequences of the announcement by Hitler that universal military conscription would be put in effect in Germany on April 1, and that an account of Ambassador Lipski’s statement would appear in the press tomorrow.

Asked if the Ambassador’s statement would be a protest against the action of Germany the Minister repeated that “it would point to the grave consequences” of the action contemplated by Germany. I asked the Minister if he could give me the substance of what would be said by Lipski and in reply he told me that the Ambassador would express the message of the Polish Government verbally and that no [Page 206] Aide-Mémoire would be delivered. The precise import of such verbal message he could not give me at this time because later in the afternoon the precise wording of Lipski’s instruction would be determined at a conference in the Foreign Office but the Minister stated that he could tell me the instructions would be to the effect that Germany would be advised of Poland’s view that the German action in announcing universal military conscription was fraught “with grave consequences”.

In answer to the repeated question as to whether or not Lipski would make a formal verbal protest the Minister replied that no protest would be made. He personally did not believe in protests unless a failure of compliance with the protest was followed by action. In this connection he cited the protest of the Polish Government in 1933 against termination by the Free City of its agreement regarding policing the harbor of Danzig, which protest was enforced by the despatch of Polish troops to Westerplatte (despatch No. 186, March 10, 1933 from the American Consulate at Danzig59).

In response to the suggestion that Germany’s abrogation of Article V of the Versailles Treaty constituted a unilateral repudiation of a bilateral undertaking he said he did not place much emphasis on juridical niceties in international affairs these days. He recalled that he had addressed this same suggestion to Prime Minister MacDonald during the Disarmament Conference of 193260 when MacDonald’s proposals did not contemplate the consultation of Germany but he has been given no reply to this inquiry.

Replying to my query the Minister said that no proposal would be advanced by Poland to lay the question of Germany’s violation of Article V of the Treaty of Versailles before the League of Nations. This proposal has already been made by France and a further proposal to such effect by Poland would be a superfluous gesture. Moreover, the Minister said he considered this passing of responsibility to the League as evidence of weakness and confusion in the councils of Great Britain, France and Italy. He said that when he returned to Warsaw (he was in Krakow on a visit on March 17) he immediately telephoned Ambassador Lipski and asked him whether any concerted action was agreed upon by the Ambassadors of Great Britain, France and Italy after Hitler’s announcement of conscription. He said Lipski had replied that far from any concert there had been confusion and lack of harmony in the views expressed. This lack of unity has been demonstrated, the Minister said, by the action taken by Great Britain, France and Italy since Hitler’s announcement. A conference was announced for Paris. Now Sir John Simon is proceeding to Berlin without this conference. Developing the answer to my question [Page 207] of a protest the Minister said that Poland considered that it had a limited responsibility under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and that its position in the present situation was much like that of Belgium which had decided to make no formal protest against Hitler’s announcement. He said it would be rather ridiculous if the twenty-five odd nations which had signed the Treaty of Versailles were all to [make?] formal protest at this time and reiterated his statement that a protest to be effective must be backed by action.

In response to the inquiry as to whether or not in his opinion the augmentation of the Reiehswehr to 500,000 was already an accomplished fact the Minister said that he thought the German regular army was considerably less than that figure, although it was an open secret known a long time to every Chancery in Europe that German rearmament had been proceeding at a rapid rate since the withdrawal of Germany from the Disarmament Conference in October 1933.61

Concerning the proposed visit of Captain Eden to Warsaw the Minister said the object of this visit was to sound out the Polish Government regarding the Eastern European Pact of Mutual Assistance and the Danubian Accords. He said that I could report to my Government that the position of the Polish Government towards both proposals had not changed since his last statement to me on this question (despatches No. 557, January 11, 1935, and No. 625, March 8, 1935).

I asked him what would be the attitude of Poland if France signed a separate pact of mutual assistance or any pact with Russia and he said he could not reply to that question until the pact became an accomplished fact but he could see no objection on the part of the Polish Government unless such a pact violated the terms of the Polish-French Alliance or the Non-Aggression Pact between Poland and Russia. Candidly, he added, he could tell me in great confidence that he did not think any Eastern pact as now contemplated would ever be brought to a realization and he considered discussions on this subject academic.

He reiterated the position of the Polish Government towards the Danubian Agreement and said that the Polish Government would welcome such a proposal which in reality was merely an expression of intention to preserve peace and did not impose any conflicting obligations. He emphasized his former declarations to me that the fundamental foreign policy of Poland was to preserve peace with Germany and Russia and said he would persistently refuse to enter into any commitment that would in any way jeopardize the agreements now preserving this peace concluded with these two countries. [Page 208] The Eastern European Pact of Mutual Assistance as now contemplated he considered one that might jeopardize the position of Poland in the preservation of peace, especially since it envisaged commitments which might bring about contention, conflict, and confusion.


I am of the opinion that the Minister of Foreign Affairs did not express himself dishonestly; that he does not fear a German-Polish isolation. I believe that the policy Poland has pursued since the Declaration of January 26, 1934 with Germany62 represents his judgment of what is best for the interests of his Government in foreign affairs. In my opinion the course of independent action he has pursued since that time is dictated by the prevailing belief in Poland that the country is sufficiently strong to stand on its own feet and need not adhere to a policy of alliances. I believe Beck has confidence and faith in the future of Poland as an independent state and does not realize that the construction put upon the Declaration of January 26, 1934 as indicating a Polish-German rapprochement is dangerous to Poland, or that the cooling relations of Poland towards France are fraught with hazardous possibilities. It is significant that at the end of our conversation the Foreign Minister stated that while great diplomatic activity would take place during the next two or three weeks he was not alarmed or even concerned and considered the possibility of war very remote. The situation was entirely different from that which prevailed in 1914, he said, for the reason that every government in Europe was beset by grave internal difficulties and had not the physical means to prosecute a war. No one realized this as much as those charged with the control of foreign affairs.

Respectfully yours,

John Cudahy
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1932, vol. i, pp. 1 ff.
  4. For correspondence concerning German withdrawal from the Conference, see Foreign Relations, 1933, vol. i, pp. 265352 passim.
  5. German-Polish nonaggression declaration, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxxxvii, p. 495.