The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant) to the Secretary of State

No. 242

Sir: In my telegram No. 1271 April 2, 1 p.m., addressed to the President, the Secretary and the Under Secretary, I reported a conversation with Dr. Eduard Beneš on March 28, in which he brought up the question of the recognition of the Czechoslovak Government in exile. In that conversation Dr. Beneš indicated that he would let me have certain documents bearing on the recognition of his Government by the British Government which he hoped that I might bring to the attention of the President.

The following week Dr. Beneš gave to Mr. Cohen15 a copy of his letter of July 9, 1940 to Lord Halifax, which is attached hereto as enclosure l,16 and a copy of Lord Halifax’s letter to him of July 18, 1940, which is attached hereto as enclosure 2. This exchange of letters, which was not made public, preceded and laid the basis for Lord Halifax’s letter to Dr. Beneš of July 21, 1940, a copy of which is attached hereto as enclosure 3, recognizing the provisional Czechoslovak Government. Lord Halifax’s letter of July 21, as you are aware, was publicly released.

Dr. Beneš also handed Mr. Cohen a copy of his memorandum on the political and juridical relationship of the Czechoslovak Republic to Great Britain. This memorandum, a copy of which is attached hereto as enclosure 4, was given privately to Mr. Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, before his departure from London. The memorandum was written, as Dr. Beneš explained, with a view to setting forth the reasons which would justify and make appropriate the British Government’s recognizing the Czechoslovak Government in exile as the Government of the Czechoslovak Republic rather than as merely the provisional Czechoslovak Government. Dr. Beneš feels strongly that the form of recognition should be no different from that accorded to the other governments in exile, and he was under the impression that Mr. Eden, while he had come to no definite decision, was sympathetic to his point of view.

Some days later Dr. Beneš handed to Mr. Cohen a copy of a memorandum entitled “Echange des Vues sur la Collaboration Polono-Tchécoslovaque après la Présente Guerre” which was prepared by Dr. Beneš and submitted to General Sikorski.17 A copy of this memorandum [Page 27]is attached hereto as enclosure 5. Dr. Beneš explained that as he understood that General Sikorski had spoken about these conversations at Washington, he thought that the President and the Secretary should have, in confidence, the document he had given General Sikorski. Dr. Beneš said that he did not feel free to transmit the memorandum which he had received in reply from General Sikorski. But he stated that while General Sikorski accepted in principle his political propositions, General Sikorski proposed that they should agree in advance on the frontiers of the two countries and each should then support the other’s territorial claims. This, Dr. Beneš was not prepared to do at this time. He thought it unwise at the present moment for Czechoslovakia to become involved in the boundary dispute between Russia and Poland, and for Poland to become involved in Czechoslovakia’s boundary dispute with Hungary. He was not unsympathetic with Poland’s concern about her frontiers, but even as regards his own country he was not taking the position that the old frontiers were sacrosanct. Dr. Beneš’ discussions of the relations between a Polish-Czechoslovak confederation and Russia you will, I believe, find of special interest.

As I explained in my telegram under reference, Dr. Beneš is extremely anxious to secure the recognition of our Government. He feels that the Germans are exploiting the fact that the Czechoslovak Government had not been accorded the same recognition as other governments in exile by the United States, although the United States was the first government to recognize the Czechoslovak Government in the last war. Of course he wanted it understood that he was speaking to me informally as he did not want to be in the position of having requested recognition and of having it refused.

I might add that Major Desmond Morton, one of the principal personal assistants in the Prime Minister’s office, in the course of a conversation on other matters mentioned the fact that Dr. Beneš was in close and constant touch with the Government and people of Czechoslovakia over whom he had the greatest influence and that the Czechs were more effective than almost any other subjugated people in their passive resistance to and sabotage of the Germans.

I personally feel very deeply about Czechoslovakia and hope very much that we might recognize the Czechoslovak Government in exile. This could be done on terms which would not unreasonably tie our hands at the Peace Conference. No government with which I dealt at Geneva18 seemed more genuinely eager than the Czechoslovak to pattern their way of life on American standards.

Respectfully yours,

John G. Winant
  1. Benjamin V. Cohen, legal adviser to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom.
  2. Enclosures mentioned in this despatch not printed.
  3. Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, President of the Polish Government in Exile at London.
  4. Ambassador Winant had been Assistant Director of the International Labor Office at Geneva, 1935, 1937–39; and Director, 1939–41.