Summary Record of Interviews With First Secretary of German Embassy in the Vatican (Von Kessel), July 22–August 2, 194451
You may care to see the following account of conversations between Von Kessel and an official52 of P.W.B.53 which took place in the Vatican between July 23rd54 and August 2nd. The conversations took place on Von Kessel’s initiative and with the permission of Baron Weiszacker,55 and, of course, the British authorities.
Von Kessel claims to be member of “putsch” group
(i) Von Kessel said that he, and many of his colleagues, had long been in the dilemma of hating the Régime and yet, as patriots, being bound to serve under it. He then claimed that the putsch had been carried out By an organised group of which he was a member, and which had been in existence since before the War. Their object was to set up a strong civil government in Germany, to make peace with all the Allies including Russia, but to shape the future policy of their country towards co-operation with the Western Powers rather than the U.S.S.R. “They are your friends whom they have killed” was the way Von Kessel expressed himself. The elements comprising the Group were taken from both Conservatives and Social Democrats. The Cabinet which would have been formed would have had in most cases a Social Democrat Minister and Conservative Under Secretary.[Page 533]
No connexion with Seydlitz56 movement
(ii) The Group, however, were not thinking in terms of a simple return to 1932. They wished to maintain a strong even authoritarian central Government, while, at the same time, fostering the growth of democracy in local government and in the restored Länder.57 The Gau58 system was to be destroyed, and the Länder were once more to become the basis of the German State.
(iii) The leaders of the present movement had not taken their tune from Seydlitz or from Generals on the Russian Front. Von Kessel said he could be fairly certain of that, though he had been out of Germany two months, for a similar putsch had been planned for after Stalingrad, but had been called off when the decision of Unconditional Surrender had been proclaimed at Casablanca. No patriotic German could rise against an existing Government in those circumstances.
Tripartite occupation of Germany may lead to civil war
(iv) The choice of the date for action was probably to take the last possible chance of giving a united Germany a Civil Government before she began to be partitioned by the Allies. Von Kessel said that he would rather see Germany wholly occupied by the Russians or wholly occupied by the Allies rather than divided up by the victorious armies of occupation. In those circumstances, it was possible that Germany would become a prey to Civil War. Free Corps would be formed in the Russian part, while the Allies would retaliate by forming similar bands. Germany might become the battleground in a future strategic struggle between Russia and the Western Powers.
Unconditional surrender demand harms Allied cause in Germany
(v) Von Kessel claimed that the demand for unconditional surrender, coupled with threats such as that issued by Sumner Welles59 for the partition of Germany had done the Anglo-American cause enormous harm in Germany. There were 10,000,000 homeless there. The Allies had given them no future to look forward to. The Russians were showing themselves as effective diplomatists as well as great leaders in the field. Von Kessel considered that the failure of the present coup would place the country under the leadership of the [Page 534] political S.S., which would swing nearer and nearer towards collaboration with Russia. Russia would not lack Quislings.
(vi) Von Kessel said that there was no hatred in Germany of the British on account of the raids—though in Hamburg 100,000 had lost their lives. There was, however, a growing indifference. England was ceasing to count as a power factor.
Criticism of Allied policy to Germany reiterated
(vii) The Group desired a firm Anglo-German understanding, which would extend to the other Western Powers. They hoped to maintain central Europe within the Western rather than the Russian orbit. They were opposed, both to the Nationalist Generals under Seydlitz and to Nazi extremists under Bormann, who regard future Russo-German collaboration on the basis of united armed strength as both inevitable and desirable.
(viii) Von Kessel made it clear that no patriotic German, however anti-Nazi he be, could cooperate with the Anglo-Americans so long as the latter maintain a “wholly destructive” outlook toward Germany. “Unconditional surrender” should not be coupled wih threats of undefined yet ruthless punishment, promising no hope for a better future for those who do surrender, and threatening the permanent division of the country.
Envoy sent to Stockholm to contact Allies
(ix) Von Kessel stated that about two months ago his Group had sent an envoy to Stockholm to contact Allied authorities there. He bore the specific proposal that if they were able to get rid of Hitler and his immediate associates, the Allies should make “some gesture of approval” e.g. refrain from bombing Berlin. Von Kessel added that Berlin was 50% destroyed as it was, and that there was not much left worth saving. No answer was returned.
No post-war collaboration between Group and Nazis intended
(x) The Group at one time had hoped to work with some of the “more reasonable” Party officials, but moderate men had been replaced by even more extreme Nazis. After the War the people would not stand for the retention of any Party official who was a known Nazi.
Dangers of handing East Prussia to Poland
(xi) Informant emphasised the danger of handing over East Prussia to Poland. “Reasonable Poles” did not want the province, and the earliest Nazis were to be found among the one million Germans who had been driven from Silesia and Poznan after the last War.
(xii) Enforced immigrants from East Prussia would perpetuate bitterness after this War. He instanced German Catholic priests from [Page 535] Polish Silesia who proclaimed that “of course the Church is Nazi”. They were as bigoted as the rest of the Germans from that area.
Pro-Russian sympathies amongst certain Nazis
(xiii) Elaborating his theme of the “danger of eventual Russo-German collaboration” Von Kessel named Martin Bormann as leader of the “pro-Russian” group among the Nazis, and General Stahel, former Governor of Rome as a prominent exponent of this view among the generals. Himmler was anti-Russian, but pro-Russian sympathies were to be found among the colonels commanding the SS regiments. Seydlitz and his group in Moscow were “unimaginative patriots” who put geographical proximity and admiration for the Russian army as the main reason for the Russo-German collaboration. “They knew nothing of Shakespeare and Goethe and cared less”.
Russian policy in the Middle and Far East
(xiv) Turning to Russian policy in the Middle and Far East, Von Kessel said that some three months ago his group had intercepted most secret information from a Japanese source suggesting the existence of a Russo-Japanese understanding. By this, Asia would be divided into Russian and Japanese spheres of influence. Japan would include China, and India as far as the Indus. Russia would predominate in Sinkiang, Mesopotamia and Persia.
(xv) The tone in which Von Kessel mentioned this, was at least designed to suggest that he believes this information to be true. He supported his views by claiming that Japanese troops had been withdrawn from Manchuria to attack the Chungking forces on the Peking-Hankow railway, and he reminded me of the strength of the Japanese forces we had just cleared out of India. He went on that Germany still had a great admiration for the China of Chiang Kai Shek.60 He thought that after the war was over in Europe many Germans would volunteer for service in the Far East against the Japanese.
Von Papen’s future and attitude to the present régime
(xvi) Von Kessel said we must not be surprised if Von Papen were to play a considerable role in Germany in the near future. It would either be that, or he would be shot by the Party. We might with good reason distrust Von Papen, but he was a man with great personality, forthright, and who had a knack of wielding personal influence over those with whom he came into contact.
(xvii) In October 1939 he had had no qualms about telling the Turkish President61 that if it were necessary to make peace, peace would [Page 536] be made. If Hitler opposed “Hitler could be done away with”. This conversation had come into the hands of the French Military Attaché at Ankara,62 who had transmitted it to his Government. The document had been captured along with other archives in 1940, and Von Kessel had had the task of telling Von Papen of its existence. Von Papen had acknowledged the truth of the report and asked for the document as a souvenir. Von Kessel let him have it.
Personalities implicated in the “putsch”
(xviii) Count Helldorf, Chief of Police in Berlin, had been implicated in the Putsch. Many others, such as General Von Pohl63 and Oberst Veltheim64 of the Fasano65 Embassy were sympathetic. We should do well to watch Field Marshal Von Richthofen66 as the possible leader of further action against Hitler. Of the Generals in the field in Italy, Von Kessel had much to say about the “pro-British” sentiments of Generals Baade67 and Ludwig.68 Kesselring,69 Von Kessel described as a “very second rate Bavarian officer”. The brains behind the campaign was General Westphal.70
Group in contact with Abwehr Agents
(xix) His movement had been able to get into touch with the “underground in Occupied Europe”, through agents in the Abwehr, in particular through an Evangelical Pastor in Switzerland. This had opened the way towards co-operation with groups in the present Dutch Administration in Holland, and Evangelical representatives there and in Norway. The Dutch Government in London was “in the picture”.
Future of Austria
(xx) We should not over-estimate the swing of opinions against the Reich among the older people there. He considered that they were irritated and harassed rather than deeply disaffected. They had had trouble with the bombed out or with Prussian officials.
(xxi) The real test would be the attitude of the young Austrian soldier when he returned from the Front. Would he say “I have been fighting along with the Germans in the same company for Austrian reparation” rather than “I was fighting as a member of the [Page 537] German people”. Austria could not live in independent isolation. Austrian Nazis had been even more fanatical than Prussian. Von Kessel considered that a loose union with Germany should be maintained for five years after the War. Then the people should have a chance of deciding whether to remain with Germany or link with Hungary or Czechoslovakia.
This document is dated October 12, 1944, and was presumably transmitted by a British source to the Office of Strategic Services. The document is located in the Army and Air Corps Branch of the National Archives, but a photostat is now in Department of State files.
Documentation on only the July 22 interview with Herr von Kessel was found in the files of the Department of State; firstly, telegram 15, July 28, 1944, 9 a.m., and secondly, a report by W. H. C. Frend, a British official of the Psychological Warfare Branch, Allied Force Headquarters, enclosed with despatch 641, July 28, 1944. Both telegram and despatch are from the U.S. Representative on the Advisory Council for Italy (Murphy) (not printed). In the conclusion of his report on the initial interview with von Kessel, the British official wrote that he saw “no reason to regard this move by the German Embassy in the Vatican as a hoax.” (862.01/7–2844).↩
- W. H. C. Frend.↩
- Psychological Warfare Branch of Allied Force Headquarters.↩
- Telegram 15, July 28, 1944, 9 a.m., not printed, from the United States Representative on the Advisory Council for Italy (Murphy) stated that the first conversation with von Kessel took place on July 22, 1944 (862.01/7–2844).↩
- Ernst von Weizsäcker, German Ambassador in the Vatican.↩
- Gen. Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, Commander of the LI Corps which surrendered with the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad in 1943. Later he headed a “Union of German Officers” in the Soviet Union which sought to induce Germany to make peace with the Soviet Union.↩
- German states.↩
- A Gau was one of the 43 regional divisions of the German Nazi party.↩
- Former Under Secretary of State. For details of his proposals for partition of Germany, see Sumner Welles, The Time for Decision (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1944), pp. 336–361.↩
- President of the National Government of the Republic of China.↩
- Ismet Inönü.↩
- Presumably Col. de Courson de la Villeneuve.↩
- Chief of the Liaison Office of the German Air Force in Italy.↩
- Col. Herbert von Veltheim, Assistant Military Attaché.↩
- Reference is to the German Embassy to the Italian Social Republic, Benito Mussolini’s puppet government in Northern Italy.↩
- Field Marshal Wolfgang von Richthofen, Commander of the German 2nd Air Force in Italy.↩
- Lt. Gen. Ernst-Günther Baade, Commander of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division.↩
- Presumably Lt. Gen. Hartwig von Ludwiger, Commander of the 104th Jäger Division.↩
- Field Marshal Albrecht Kesselring, Commander-in-Chief of German Forces in Italy and Military Commander of Italy.↩
- Maj. Gen. Siegfried Westphal, Chief of Staff to Field Marshal Kesselring.↩