The Ambassador in France ( Bullitt ) to the Secretary of State
[Received 5:57 p.m.]
240. I have just discussed with Léger22 the situation created by Schuschnigg’s visit to Berchtesgaden.
Léger said that Schuschnigg had informed the French Minister in Vienna very privately and confidentially that he had been received with the utmost brutality. Hitler had had three generals including Reichenau standing behind him throughout the conversation and had made the following four demands:
- That the Austrian Government should declare an amnesty for all Nazis and permit those now in Germany to return to Austria;
- That those Nazis who had been deprived of their pensions and positions because of their political affiliations should be restored to their pensions and positions;
- That Seyss-Inquart should be appointed Minister of the Interior and given control of the entire Austrian police force;
- That Austria should agree to take no action with regard to foreign affairs without previous consultation with the German Government.
Léger went on to say that Schuschnigg had returned to Vienna intensely depressed and that Guido Schmidt was doing his best to persuade Schuschnigg to accept these demands of Germany.
Léger made the obvious comment that the acceptance of these demands would mean the end of Austrian independence.
I asked if the French Government had taken any action in Vienna or given Schuschnigg definite advice. Léger replied that there had been no formal contact whatsoever between Schuschnigg and the French Minister since the former’s visit to Berchtesgaden. The information which Schuschnigg had given the French Minister had been given most privately and Schuschnigg had not asked for advice nor had any been given him.[Page 395]
Léger went on to say that he did not know whether or not the French Government would decide to urge Schuschnigg to reject these demands. The question would have to be decided by Chautemps23 and Delbos24 after consultation with Chamberlain25 and Eden.26 The decision would in his opinion rest on the interpretation of recent events in Germany.
A message had been received from François-Poncet giving what he, Léger, believed to be an accurate account of the genesis of the Berchtesgaden visit. Hitler’s old Nazi friends had been urging him to give up the idea that he could acquire Austria by peaceful evolutions and to turn to the method of force. Hitler was most loath to use force because the generals of the Reichswehr had convinced him that the army would not be in condition to fight a major war against France and England for approximately another year. Hitler therefore had wished to make a last attempt to gain his objective by overwhelming Schuschnigg’s will to resist. He had had the three generals present in order to make it clear to Schuschnigg that if necessary there would be force behind his words.
An additional reason for Hitler’s reluctance to use force or threat of force was the fact that during the present period of preparation of the German Army he wished to avoid any act which might produce a strong government of national defense in France and an intensification of British war preparations and incidentally an increase in American hostility to Germany.
Léger went on to say that both he and François-Poncet were entirely convinced that if Schuschnigg should accept the first two demands of Hitler but reject the final two demands Hitler would not dare to use force. He would employ every means short of mobilization to make life uncomfortable and impossible for the Austrian Government, but would not mobilize. Léger said that he was not sure that Chautemps and Delbos would agree with him in this diagnosis. It was possible to believe that Hitler would mobilize three or four divisions on the Austrian frontier and that Schuschnigg would be forced to give way at a moment of great European crisis.
If one adopted the latter interpretation, it would obviously be less dangerous to have Schuschnigg submit now rather than later. Léger said that there were indications that the latter interpretation might be the interpretation of the British Government. In that case France would do nothing.[Page 396]
Schuschnigg would have to be assured of at least moral support from France and England and perhaps also Italy in order to be in a position to resist.
Léger said that the French and British Governments would discuss the problem this morning. He added that Hitler had not delivered an ultimatum with a time limit to Schuschnigg and he believed that Schuschnigg would attempt to gain time by standing on his dignity for a brief space.