Adolf Hitler - speech before his generals
August 22, 1939
I have called you together to give you a picture of the political situation, in order that you might have some insight into the individual factors on which I have based my decision to act and in order to strengthen your confidence.
After this we shall discuss military details.
It was clear to me that a conflict with Poland had to come sooner or later. I had already made this decision in the spring, but I thought that I would first turn against the West in a few years, and only after that against the East. But the sequence of these things cannot be fixed. Nor should one close one’s eyes to threatening situations. I wanted first of all to establish a tolerable relationship with Poland in order to fight first against the West. But this plan, which appealed to me, could not be executed, as fundamental points had changed. It became clear to me that, in the event of a conflict with the West, Poland would attack us. Poland is striving for access to the sea. The further developmet appeared after the occupation of the Memel Territory and it became clear to me that in certain circumstances a conflict with Poland might come at an inopportune moment. I give as reasons for this conclusion: 1. First of all two personal factors: My own personality and that of Mussolini.
Essentially all depends on me, on my existence, because of my political talents. Furthermore, the fact that probably no one will ever again have the confidence of the whole German people as I have. There will probably never again in the future be a man with more authority than I have. My existence is therefore a fact of great value. But I can be eliminated at any time by a criminal or a lunatic.
The second personal factor is the Duce. His existence is absolutely decisive.
If anything happens to him, Italy’s loyalty to the alliance will no longer be certain. The Italian Court is fundamentally opposed to the Duce. Above all, the Court regards the expansion of the empire as an encumbrance. The Duce is the man with the strongest nerves in Italy.
The third personal factor in our favor is Franco. We can ask only for benevolent neutrality from Spain. But this depends on Franco’s personality.
He guarantees a certain uniformity and stability in the present system in Spain.
We must accept the fact that Spain does not yet have a Fascist party with our internal unity.
The other side presents a negative picture as far as authoritative persons are concerned. There is no outstanding personality in England and France.
It is easy for us to make decisions. We have nothing to lose; we have everything to gain. Because of our restrictions (Einschrankungen) our economic situation is such that we can only hold out for a few more years. Goring can confirm this. We have no other choice, we must act. Our opponents will be risking a great deal and can gain only little. Britain’s stake in a war is inconceivably great. Our enemies have leaders who are below the average. No masters, no men of action.
Besides the personal factors, the political situation is favorable for us: In the Mediterranean, rivalry between Italy, France and England; in the Far East, tension between Japan and England; in the Middle East, tension which causes alarm in the Mohammedan world.
The English Empire did not emerge stronger from the last war. Nothing was achieved from the maritime point of view. Strife between England and Ireland. The Union of South Africa has become more independent.
Concessions have had to be made to India. England is in the utmost peril.
Unhealthy industrialization. A British statesman can only view the future with concern.
France’s position has also deteriorated, above all in the Mediterranean.
Further factors in our favor are these: Since Albania, there has been a balance of power in the Balkans. Yugoslavia is infected with the fatal germ of decay because of her internal situation.
Rumania has not grown stronger. She is open to attack and vulnerable. She is threatened by Hungary and Bulgaria. Since Kemal’s death, Turkey has been ruled by petty minds, unsteady, weak men.
All these favorable circumstances will no longer prevail in two or three years’ time. No one knows how much longer I shall live. Therefore, better a conflict now.
The creation of Greater Germany was a great achievement politically, but militarily it was doubtful, since it was achieved by bluff on the part of the political leaders. It is necessary to test the military [machine]. If at all possible, not in a general reckoning, but by the accomplishment of individual tasks.
The relationship with Poland has become unbearable. My Polish policy hitherto was contrary to the views of the people. My proposals to Poland (Danzig and the Corridor) were frustrated by England’s intervention. Poland changed her tone towards us. A permanent state of tension is intolerable. The power of initiative cannot be allowed to pass to others. The present moment is more favorable than in two or three years’ time. An attempt on my life or Mussolini’s could change the situation to our disadvantage. One cannot forever face one another with rifles cocked. One compromise solution suggested to us was that we should change our convictions and make kind gestures. They talked to us again in the language of Versailles. There was a danger of losing prestige. Now the probability is still great that the West will not intervene. We must take the risk with ruthless determination. The politician must take a risk just as much as the general. We are faced with the harsh alternatives of striking or certain annihilation sooner or later.
Reference to previous hazardous undertakings.
I should have been stoned if I had not been proven right. The most dangerous step was the entry into the neutral zone. Only a week before, I got a warning through France. I have always taken a great risk in the conviction that it would succeed.
Now it is also a great risk. Iron nerves, iron resolution.
The following special reasons fortify me in my view. England and France have undertaken obligations which neither is in a position to fulfil. There is no real rearmament in England, but only propaganda. A great deal of harm was done by many Germans, who were not in agreement with me, saying and writing to English people after the solution of the Czech question: The Fuhrer succeeded because you lost your nerve, because you capitulated too soon. This explains the present propaganda war. The English speak of a war of nerves. One factor in this war of nerves is to boost the increase of armaments. But what are the real facts about British rearmament? The naval construction program for 1938 has not yet been completed. Only the reserve fleet has been mobilized.
Purchase of trawlers. No substantial strengthening of the Navy before 1941 or 1942.
Little has been done on land. England will be able to send at most three divisions to the Continent. A little has been done for the Air Force, but only a beginning. Anti-aircraft defense is in its initial stages. At the moment England has only 150 anti-aircraft guns. The new anti-aircraft gun has been ordered. It will take a long time before sufficient numbers have been produced. There is a shortage of anti-aircraft warning devices. England is still vulnerable from the air.
This can change in two or three years. At the moment the English Air Force has only 130,000 men, France 72,000, Poland 15,000. England does not want the conflict to break out for two or three years.
The following is typical for England. Poland wanted a loan from England for her rearmament. England, however, only granted credits in order to make sure that Poland buy in England, although England cannot make deliveries. This suggests that England does not really want to support Poland. She is not risking eight million pounds in Poland, although she poured five hundred million into China. England’s position in the world is too precarious. She will not take any risks.
France is short of men (decline in the birth rate). Little has been done for rearmament. The artillery is obsolete. France did not want to embark on this adventure. The West has only two possibilities for fighting against us:
1. Blockade: It will not be effective because of our autarky and because we have sources of supply in Eastern Europe.
2. Attack in the West from the Maginot line: I consider this impossible.
Another possibility would be the violation of Dutch, Belgian and Swiss neutrality. I have no doubt that all these States, as well as Scandinavia, will defend their neutrality with all available means. England and France will not violate the neutrality of these countries. Thus in actual fact England cannot help Poland. There still remains an attack on Italy. Military intervention is out of the question. No one is counting on a long war. If Herr von Brauchitsch had told me that I would need four years to conquer Poland I would have replied: “Then it cannot be done.” It is nonsense to say that England wants to wage a long war. We will hold our position in the West until we have conquered Poland. We must bear in mind our great production capacity. It is much greater than in 1914–1918.
The enemy had another hope, that Russia would become our enemy after the conquest of Poland. The enemy did not reckon with my great strength of purpose. Our enemies are little worms (kleine Wurmchen); I came to know them in Munich. I was convinced that Stalin would never accept the English offer. Russia has no interest in preserving Poland, and Stalin knows that it would mean the end of his regime, no matter whether his soldiers emerged from a war victorious or vanquished. Litvinov’s replacement was decisive. I brought about the change towards Russia gradually. In connection with the commercial treaty we got into political conversations. Proposal for a non-aggression pact. Then came a comprehensive proposal from Russia. Four days ago I took a special step, which led to Russia replying yesterday that she is prepared to sign. Personal contact to Stalin is established. The day after tomorrow von Ribbentrop will conclude the treaty.
Now Poland is in the position in which I wanted her.
We need not be afraid of a blockade. The East will supply us with grain, cattle, coal, lead and zinc. It is a mighty aim, which demands great efforts. I am only afraid that at the last moment some cur (Schweinehund) or other will yet submit to me a plan for mediation.
The political objective goes further. A start has been made on the destruction of England’s hegemony. The way will be open for the soldiers after I have made the political preparations.
Today’s announcement of the non-aggression pact with Russia came as a bombshell. The consequences cannot be foreseen. Stalin also said that this course will benefit both countries. The effect on Poland will be tremendous.