The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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No. 18-
M. Francois-Poncet, French Ambassador in Berlin,
to : M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Berlin, October 20, 1938.    

When on the evening of 0ctober 17, the German Chancellor 
asked me to see him as quickly as possible, he placed one of 
his private planes at my disposal. I therefore left by air for 
Berchtesgaden on the next day accompanied by Captain Stehlin. 
I arrived there towards three in the afternoon. From there a 
car took me not to the Obersalzberg villa where the Fuehrer 
lives, but to an extraordinary place where he likes to spend 
his days when the weather is fine.

         From a distance, the place looks like a kind of 
observatory or small hermitage perched up at a height of 
6,000 feet on the highest point of a ridge of rock. The 
approach is by a winding road about nine miles long, boldly 
cut out of the rock; the boldness of its construction does as 
much credit to the ability of the engineer Todt as to the 
unremitting toll of the workmen who in three years completed 
this gigantic task. The road comes to an end in front of a long 
underground passage leading into the mountain, and closed by 
a heavy double door of bronze. At the far end of the underground 
passage a wide lift, paneled with sheets of copper, awaits the
 visitor. Through a vertical shaft of 330 feet cut right through 
the rock, it rises up to the level of the Chancellor's dwelling-
place Here is reached the astonishing climax. The visitor finds 
himself in a strong and massive building containing a gallery 
with Roman pillars, an immense circular hall with windows all 
round and a vast open, fireplace where enormous logs are 
burning, a table surrounded by about thirty chairs, and opening 
out at the sides, several sitting-rooms, pleasantly furnished 
with comfortable arm-chairs. On every side, through the bay-
windows, one can look as from a plane high in the air, on to an 
immense panorama of mountains. At the far end of a vast 
amphitheater one can make out Salzburg and the surrounding 
villages, dominated, as far as the eye can reach, by a horizon 
of mountain ranges and peaks, by meadows and forests clinging 
to the slopes. In the immediate vicinity of the house, which 
gives the impression of being suspended in space, an almost 
overhanging wall of bare rock-rises up abruptly. The whole, 
bathed in the twilight of an autumn evening, is grandiose, 
wild, almost hallucinating. The visitor wonders whether he 
is awake or dreaming He would like to know where he is - 
whether this is the Castle of Monsalvat where lived the Knights 
of the Grail or a new Mount Athos sheltering the meditations of 
a cenobite, or the palace of Antinea rising up in the heart of the 
Atlas Mountains. Is it the materialization of one of those 
fantastic drawings with which Victor Hugo adorned the margins 
of his manuscript of "Les Burgraves", the fantasy of a millionaire, 
or merely the refuge where brigands take their leisure and hoard 
their treasures? Is it the conception of a normal mind, or that 
of a man tormented by megalomania, by a haunting desire for 
domination and solitude, or merely that of a being in the grip 
of fear?

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One detail cannot pass unnoticed, and is less valuable than the 
rest for someone who tries to assess the psychology of Adolf 
Hitler:the approaches, the openings of the underground passage 
and the access top the house are manned by soldiers and protected 
by nests of machine guns.... (pp. 20, 21, 22)

For nearly two hours Herr Hitler has been readily listening to 
my questions; he has answered them without any embarrassment, 
with simplicity and - at least apparently - with candor. But the 
time has come to release him. Antinea's Castle is now submerged 
in the shadow that spreads over the valley and the mountains. I 
take my leave. The Fuehrer expresses the wish that I might later 
return to Germany and come to visit him in a private capacity. 
He shakes both my hands several times. After going down in the 
lift and through the underground passage, I find the car waiting 
for me; passing through Berchtesgaden it takes me back to the 
airport, from where our plane starts immediately on its night 
flight go Berlin.

During the whole of our conversation, except for a few 
outbursts of violence when referring to England, the Fuehrer 
was calm,, moderate, conciliatory. One would have been justified 
in thinking that one was in the presence of a man with a well-
balanced mind, rich in experience and wisdom, and wishing above 
all things to establish the reign of peace among nations. There 
were moments when Herr Hitler spoke of Europe, of his feelings 
as a European, which are, he asserts, more genuine than those 
expressed so loudly by many people.

He spoke of our "white civilization" as of a very precious 
possession common to us all, which must be defended. He 
appeared sincerely shocked at the persistent antagonism 
which has remained after the Munich Agreement, and which 
the British attitude revealed to his mind with great clearness. 
Obviously, the possibility of a coming crisis and the eventual 
outbreak of a general war are ever present in his mind. Perhaps 
at heart he himself is skeptical as to his chances of preventing 
this tragedy? In any case, he seems willing to attempt to do so 
or he wishes to feel he has made the attempt so as to calm if 
not his own conscience, at least the conscience of his people. 
And it is through France that he thinks this attempt must be made.    

I have no illusions whatever about Adolf Hitler's character, 
I knew that he is changeable, dissembling, full of contradictions, 
uncertain. The same man with the debonair aspect, with a real 
fondness for the beauties of nature, who discussed reasonable 
ideas on European politics round the tea-table, is also capable 
of the worst frenzies, of the wildest exaltations and the most 
delirious ambitions. There are days when, standing before a 
globe of the world, he will overthrow nations, continents, 
geography and history, like a demiurge stricken with madness. 
At other moments, he dreams of being the hero of an everlasting 
peace, in which he would devote himself to the erection of the 
most magnificent

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monuments. The advances that he is prepared to make to 
France are dictated by a sentiment which he shares, at least 
intermittently, with the majority of his countrymen, namely 
the weariness of an age-long contest, and the desire to see 
it end at last; this feeling is now strengthened by the 
memories of the Munich interviews, by the sympathy that 
the person of President Daladier around in him, and also by 
the idea that our country's evolution tends to make it easier 
for her to understand the Third Reich. But at the same time 
we may be certain that the Fuehrer remains true to his wish 
to disintegrate the Franco-British bloc, and to stabilize peace 
in the west, so as to have a free hand in the east. What plans 
may be revolving already in his mind? It is Poland, Russia, 
the Baltic States which, in his thoughts, will be called upon 
to pay the cost? Does he himself even know?

Be that as it may, Hitler is one of those men with whom one 
must never relax one's utmost vigilance, and whom one can only 
trust with reservations. Personally, I do not draw the conclusion 
that we should not listen to his suggestions. In these circumstances, 
as in many other previous ones, I hold that the main thing is that 
we should know exactly where we stand and with whom we are 
dealing.... (pp. 25, 26, 27)

 .... After the undeniable successes of the Third Reich's foreign 
policy during the year 1938, it might have been imagined that 
the Fuehrer, gratified at having attained his chief aims without 
striking a blow and shown the world the superiority of Hitlerian 
methods, would have addressed himself to the task of easing the 
internal tension, and would himself have given an example of 
satisfied calm.

But, according to information received from trustworthy sources, 
this is not the case. Herr Hitler is again said to be going through 
a period of crises. He is said to be nervous, agitated, a prey to 
sudden and violent outbursts of rage. It is said that he shuns his 
collaborators and lives in sullen seclusion. In the presence of 
those happy few who are received by him, he gives vent to angry 
complaints; he declares that he receives nothing but disappointing 
reports; that the carrying out of the Four Year Plan encounters 
new difficulties every day; that in many regions of the Reich, 
the spirit of the public is not what it should be; that in Vienna, 
Buerckel is struggling in the midst of scandals caused by the 
corruption and extortions of the Austrian Nazis; that Sudentenland 
is costing great sums of money; and that he is assailed with 
requests for credits and subsidies from every side... (p. 48)

...It would be an obvious mistake to assume that the Chancellor 
attaches much importance to these setbacks. Since the events 
of last year, his faith in his own genius, in his instinct, or as 
one might say, in his star, is boundless. Those who surround 
him are the first to admit that he now thinks himself infallible 
and invincible. That explains why he can no longer bear either 
criticism or contradiction. To contradict him is in his eyes a 
crime of "lese-majeste"; opposition to his plans, from

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whatever side it may come, is a definite sacrilege, to which 
the only reply is an immediate and striking display of his omnipotence.

The Chancellor chafes against all these disappointments with 
indignant impatience. Far from conducing him to moderation, 
these obstacles irritate him. He is aware of the enormous blunder 
which the anti-Jewish persecutions of last November have 
proved to be; yet, by a contradiction which is part of the 
dictator's psychological make-up, he is said to be preparing 
to enter upon a merciless struggle against the Church and 
Catholicism. Perhaps he thus wishes to wipe out the memory 
of past violence by fresh violence... (p. 49)

 .... The Minister for Foreign Affairs told me that he had 
found the Chancellor calm, talking a great deal as usual, 
but weighing his words, and not at all in the feverish state 
in which he had seen him sometimes.
 .... (pp. 50, 51)

 .... Although, bearing in mind the Chancellor' s unfathomable 
pride, his state of irritation and his boundless faith in his star, 
one cannot rule out "a priori" the possibility of an angry gesture 
and an imminent and brutal seizure of Danzig, I consider that, 
in the present state of things, this is not the most likely contingency .... 
(p. 118)

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