Report by the Military Attaché in Germany (Smith)17

No. 16,169

Any attempt at this moment to assay the import of the events which for three weeks have been succeeding one another with telegraphic rapidity, is scarcely now in place. When a world is engulfed in a Niagara, it is too much to expect it to see the smooth estuary water beyond. Such vital changes have occurred in the past few weeks in the relative importance of the various European powers, and so unquestioned has been the recognition overnight of the prestige and power of Germany, that American opinion is only too likely to follow the ever ignorant and uneducated expressions of opinion of our press representatives, and assume that Germany is about to swallow Rumania, Hungary, the Corridor, and God knows what.

In the past few days not less than a half dozen American press representatives have asked the Attaché how soon he expected the march into the Ukraine to begin. Each and all of these correspondents were visibly shaken and many of them enraged by the events of Munich. Each and every one of them were secretly hoping for a new German push which would permit Democratic world opinion to rally against Hitler. All correspondents were so deeply impressed by the “defeat” of the Democracies at Munich, that every vestige of reason had left them. They could see nothing but marching gray-clad armies and a succession of German conquests in Eastern Europe. In the future they are painting for America, of Hitler looking around for new nations to devour, they are far from the mark. This, time will show.

Hitler’s wish for the immediate future is fairly clear. He wants peace. He wants a peace to permit him to consolidate his gains, and to provide a psychological rest for his overtense people. He wants also improved relations with France and England and, above all, he wants colonies.

He emerges from the Czechish crisis with the Sudeten lands in his pocket, but also with a heavy personal and national obligation to Mussolini.

Hitler’s desire for colonies and his obligation to Mussolini are not entirely in accord.

Colonies can not be regained by Germany by force. East Africa, Kameroon and Togo can only be secured by Hitler as a part of a general settlement with France and England.

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Hitler’s loyalty to Mussolini is unquestionable and, incidentally, the friendship of the two men appears to have become deeply personal.

However, Italy is to-day contesting control of the Mediterranean with France and England. In Spain, Italy and France are “on opposite sides of the barricades.”

Hitler’s hope and wish is to retain Italy’s friendship while winning France and England’s. This double aim will be difficult under any circumstances to fulfill. Germany’s interests to-day call for an understanding with England at all costs. Hitler’s inner sense of loyalty to all who have done him a good turn and his personal liking for Mussolini, undoubtedly are urging him to stick by Mussolini. Thus, there is to-day a mental conflict between Hitler’s wishes and Germany’s national interest.

This conflict is apparent on October 5th, not only in the Mediterranean, but more particularly and immediately in the Hungarian-Czechish question. This latter question is on the surface one thing and under the surface quite another. If the surface aspect were the true one, the Hungarian problem would be settled to-morrow and the areas of Czechoslovakia which contain a Hungarian majority would be handed over to Hungary immediately. Actually the issue at stake is not the Hungarian districts of Slovakia, but Slovakia as a whole. The Hungarian government wants the whole of Slovakia and Czechish Ruthenia, but never says so openly. Hungary’s secret demand for Slovakia is championed by Mussolini and backed silently by Poland.

England and France want Slovakia to remain with Prague, largely out of a sense of shame for their desertion of her cause in the Sudeten issue. What the Slovaks want is not clear, so confused is the strength grouping and platforms of the various political parties in Slovakia. Probably the majority of Slovaks would like to remain with Prague, but with a much larger degree of autonomy than has been theirs up to the present. Nevertheless there are potent elements in Slovakia who want an autonomous Slovakia within a Hungarian framework.

What does Hitler want? This is the present mystery of the German foreign policy. It is noticeable that Hitler’s support of the Hungarians has been much less vociferous and much more reserved than Mussolini’s, though if the issue were purely the Hungarian minority area passing to Hungary, Hitler would undoubtedly be in the first line fighting alongside Mussolini. Why isn’t he doing so? Why does there appear to be a real difference of viewpoint between Hitler and Mussolini on the Hungarian question? The answer is believed to be Slovakia. Hitler must wish that Slovakia remain with Prague for military-political reasons, if for no other. Also to hand [Page 718] over Pressburg and the rest of Slovakia to Budapest would violate National Socialist tenets, “Men of the same race belong in the same state.”

It is a military, political and economic disadvantage for Germany to have Slovakia pass to Hungary and for the following reasons:

Poland and Hungary obtain thereby common frontiers. Italy’s position in Central Europe becomes thereby also immensely strong, for Hungary’s acquisition of Slovakia brings into being automatically, the grouping Italy–Yugoslavia–Hungary–Poland. This grouping is a far more serious military barrier to Germany’s Danubian expansion than Czechoslovakia ever was.

If on the other hand Slovakia remains with Prague, Berlin can dominate both and incidentally keep a protective shield of her own between Warsaw and Budapest.

That Hitler would prefer to keep Czechs and Slovaks together appears certain. On the other hand, it seems doubtful if he can do so, for, for him to oppose openly Rome, Warsaw, and Budapest together at the present juncture, is out of the question.

It is a curious fact that five days after the meeting of Munich, Hitler finds himself in accord with France and England on the livest European issue and opposed to his allies, Poland, Hungary, and Italy. This is not to say that Hitler will not yield to Mussolini, if he has to. Only that he will seek to conceal his opposition behind France and possibly urge Prague to grant at once autonomy to Slovakia as a means of warding off a worse fate.

Hitler’s diplomatic position at the moment is not an enviable one. He will require all of his diplomatic skill to avoid the many pitfalls which to-day confront him and hold to Italy while winning England and France.

There are two further sidelights of the European crisis which deserve the closest attention to-day and to-morrow.

1st. Poland has enormously strengthened its political-military position in Central Europe by the acquisition of the Olsa-Teschen area. This area looks small on the map and to the uninformed, the Teschen dispute seems to have been thought to be a minor matter of minorities. Actually Teschen is to Central Europe what the Panama Canal is to the Americas.

Teschen has rich coal and an important steel industry. These by themselves make Teschen a rich prize. Still more important, however, is it that Teschen is the communications center of all Eastern Europe. Through the town and over the Jablunka Pass to the south runs the great north-south artery of Central Europe from Budapest to Prague and Breslau. Through it also run the lines from Vienna to Warsaw and the line from Prague to Slovakia and Ruthenia.

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Poland now sits squarely across the main east-west line of inner communication of Czechoslovakia. Only minor unimportant routes over Pressburg and the mountains connecting Prague with her eastern provinces remain in her possession. Poland is now in a position where she can speak aggressively on Danubian matters and influence definitely the fate of Slovakia.

2nd. The second sidelight of the crisis worthy of close attention is the inner political struggle in progress behind the scenes in Hungary, the portent and probable outcome of which is not clearly apparent in Berlin at this time.

It is believed that the Hungarian National Socialists are seeking to secure power, that large elements of the Army support them, and that the feeling is strong in Hungary that Horthy18 and Imredy19 have been too weak and unaggressive in the crisis of the past weeks; and that now through weakness, Hungary runs the risk of losing the Hungarian districts of Czechoslovakia. It is furthermore understood in Berlin that the Hungarian Nazis, unlike the Horthy–Imredy regime, do not want Slovakia. This viewpoint of the Hungarian Nazis suggests that Hitler would welcome a Hungarian revolution. Such an outcome would undoubtedly obviate a clash with Mussolini.

The following preliminary thoughts as to the changes in Europe since September 1st seem called for:

Germany has won a prestige victory in acquiring the Sudetens and in coming for the first time since 1919 to a peaceful understanding with France and Great Britain over a matter of first rate importance to her.

She has also won a moderate gain in strength, in population resources and industry, but nowhere near as important a one as in March she made through the acquisition of Austria.

Germany has at this moment a fairly serious, though not necessarily a dangerous conflict of interest with the block Poland–Hungary–Italy with regard to the future of Slovakia.

Germany is bound to Mussolini to an extent which is somewhat dangerous, so long as Italy and England are opposed to each other. Until the present opposition is resolved into a peaceful cooperation, Germany sees little chance of regaining her colonies.

Germany wants a period of peace,—not a few months, but several years at least, and probably a decade.

Germany is even more pleased over peace with France and England than she is over the acquisition of the Sudetens.

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Lastly, watch the fate of Slovakia. This is to-day the most important live issue in Europe, and Spain has been considered in making this estimate.

Truman Smith
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the War Department, October 19.
  2. Admiral Nicolas Horthy, Regent of Hungary.
  3. Bela de Imredy, Hungarian Prime Minister.