The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Volume I Chapter IX
The Execution of the Plan to Invade Czechoslovakia<(Part 25 of 29)

On the afternoon of 13 March, Monsignor Tiso, accompanied by Durcansky and by Karmasin, the local Nazi- leader, arrived in Berlin in response to the summons from Hitler. Late that afternoon Tiso was received by Hitler in his study in the Reichs Chancellery and was presented with an ultimatum. Two alternatives were given him: either to declare the independence of Slovakia or to be left, without German assistance, to the mercies of Poland and Hungary. This decision, Hitler said, was not a question of days, but of hours. The captured German Foreign Office minutes of this meeting between Hitler and Tiso on 13 March show that in the inducements Hitler held out to the Slovaks Hitler displayed his customary disregard for truth:

"*** Now he [Hitler] had permitted Minister Tiso to come here in order to make this question clear in a very short time. Germany had no interests east of the Carpathian mountains. It was indifferent to him what happened there. The question was whether Slovakia wished to conduct her own affairs or not. He did not wish for anything from Slovakia. He would not pledge his people or even a single soldier to something which was not in any way desired by the Slovak people. He would like to secure final confirmation as to what Slovakia really wished. He did not wish that reproaches should come from Hungary that he was preserving something which did not wish to be preserved at all. He took a liberal view of unrest and demonstration in general, but in this connection, unrest was only an outward indica-

[Page 572]

tion of interior instability. He would not tolerate it, and he had for that reason permitted Tiso to come in order to hear his decision. It was not a question of days, but of hours. He had stated at that time that if Slovakia wished to make herself independent he would support this endeavor and even guarantee it. He would stand by his word so long as Slovakia would make it clear that she wished for independence. If she hesitated or did not wish to dissolve the connection with Prague, he would leave the destiny of Slovakia to the mercy of events, for which he was no longer responsible. In that case he would only intercede for German interests and those did not lie east of the Carpathians. Germany had nothing to do with Slovakia. She had never belonged to Germany.

"The Fuehrer asked the Reich Foreign Minister if he had any remarks to add. The Reich Foreign Minister also emphasized for his part the conception that in this case a decision was a question of hours not of days. He showed the Fuehrer a message he had just received which reported Hungarian troop movements on the Slovak frontiers. The Fuehrer read this report, mentioned it to Tiso, and expressed the hope that Slovakia would soon decide clearly for herself." (2802-PS)

Those present at this meeting included Ribbentrop, Keitel, State Secretary Dietrich, State Secretary Keppler, and Minister of State Meissner.

While in Berlin, the Slovaks also conferred separately with Ribbentrop and with other high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop solicitously handed Tiso a copy, already drafted in SIovak, of the law proclaiming the independence of Slovakia. On the night of 13 March a German plane was placed at Tiso's disposal to carry him home. On 14 March, pursuant to the wishes of the Nazi conspirators, the Diet of Bratislava proclaimed the independence of Slovakia.

With Slovak extremists, acting at Nazi bidding, in open revolt against the Czechoslovak government, the Nazi leaders were now in a position to move against Prague. On the evening of 14 March, at the suggestion of the German Legation in Prague M. Hacha, the president of the Czechoslovak republic, and M. Chvalkovsky, his foreign minister, arrived in Berlin. The atmosphere in which they found themselves was hostile. Since the preceding weekend the Nazi press had accused the Czechs of using violence against the Slovaks and especially against members of the German minority and citizens of the Reich. Both press and radio

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proclaimed that the lives of Germans were in danger, that the situation was intolerable and that it was necessary to smother as quickly as possible the focus of trouble which Prague had become in the heart of Europe.

After midnight on the 15 March, at 1:15 in the morning, Hacha and Chvalkovsky were ushered into the Reichs Chancellery. They found there Hitler, von Ribbentrop, Goering, Keitel, and other high Nazi officials. The captured German Foreign Office account of this meeting furnishes a revealing picture of Nazi behaviour and tactics. It must be remembered that this account of the conference of the night of March 14-15 comes from German sources, and must be read as an account biased by its source.

Hacha opened the conference. He was conciliatory, even humble. He thanked Hitler for receiving him and said he knew that the fate of Czechoslovakia rested in the Fuehrer's hands. Hitler replied that he regretted that he had been forced to ask Hacha to come to Berlin, particularly because of the great age of the President. (Hacha was then in his seventies.) But this journey, Hitler told the President, could be of great advantage to his country, because "it was only a matter of hours until Germany would intervene." The conference proceeded as follows, with Hitler speaking:

"Slovakia was a matter of indifference to him. If Slovakia had kept closer to Germany, it would have been an obligation to Germany, but he was glad that he did not have this obligation now. He had no interests whatsoever in the territory east of the Lower Carpathian Mts. Last autumn he had not wanted to draw the final consequences because he had believed that it was possible to live together. But even at that time, and also later in his conversations with Chvalkovsky, he made it clear that he would ruthlessly smash this state if Benes' tendencies were not completely revised. Chvalkovsky understood this and asked the Fuehrer to have patience. The Fuehrer saw this point of view, but the months went by without any change. The new regime did not succeed in eliminating the old one psychologically. He observed this from the press, mouth to mouth propaganda, dismissals of Germans and many other things which, to him, were a symbol of the whole situation. At first he had not understood this but when it became clear to him he drew his conclusions because, had the development continued in this way, the relations with Czechoslovakia would in a few years have become the same as six months ago. Why did Czechoslovakia not immediately reduce its army to a reasonable size? Such

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an army was a tremendous burden for such a state because it only makes sense if it supports the foreign political mission of the State. Since Czechoslovakia no longer has a foreign political mission, such an army is meaningless. He enumerates several examples which proved to him that the spirit in the army was not changed. This symptom convinced him that the army would be a severe political burden in the future. Added to this were the inevitable development of economic necessities and, further, the protests from national groups which could no longer endure life as it was.

"Last Sunday, therefore, for me the die was cast. I summoned the Hungarian envoy and notified him that I was withdrawing my [restraining] hands from the country. We are now confronted with this fact. He had given the order to the German troops top march into Czechoslovakia and to incorporate Czechoslovakia into the German Reich. He wanted to give Czechoslovakia fullest autonomy and a life of her own to a larger extent than she had ever enjoyed during Austrian rule. Germanys attitude towards Czechoslovakia will be determined tomorrow and depends on the attitude of the Czechoslovakian military towards the German troops. He no longer trusts the government. He believes in the honesty and straight forwardness of Hacha and Chvalkovsky but doubts that the government will be able to assert itself in the entire nation. The German Army had already started out today, and at one barracks where resistance was offered, it was ruthlessly broken; another barracks had given in at the deployment of heavy artillery.

"At 6 oclock in the morning the German army would invade Czechoslovakia from all sides and the German air force would occupy the German air fields. There existed two possibilities. The first one would be that the invasion of the German troops would lead to a battle. In this case the resistance will be broken by all means with physical force. The other possibility is that the invasion of the German troops occurs in Bearable form. In that case it would be easy for the Fuehrer to give Czechoslovakia at the new organization of Czech life a generous life of her own, autonomy and a certain national liberty.

"We witnessed at the moment a great historical turning- point. He would not like to torture and de-nationalize the Czechs. He also did not do all that because of hatred but in order to protect Germany. If Czechoslovakia in the fall of

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last year would not have yielded, the Czech people would have been exterminated. Nobody could have prevented him from doing that. It was his will that the Czech people should live a full national life and he believed firmly that a way could be found which would make far-reaching concessions to the Czech desires. If fighting would break out tomorrow, the pressure would result in counter-pressure One would annihilate one another and it would then not be possible any more for him to give the promised alleviations. Within two days the Czech army would not exist any more. Of course, Germans would also be killed and this would result in a hatred which would force him because of his instinct of self-preservation not to grant autonomy any more. The world would not move a muscle. He felt pity for the Czech people when he read the foreign press. It gave him the impression expressed in a German proverb: The Moor has done his duty, the Moor may go.

"That was the state of affairs. There were two courses open to Germany, a harder one which did not want any concessions and wished in memory of the past that Czechoslovakia would be conquered with blood, and another one, the attitude of which corresponded with the proposals stated above.

"That was the reason why he had asked Hacha to come here. This invitation was the last good deed which he could offer to the Czech people. If it would come to a fight, the bloodshed would also force us to hate. But the visit of Hacha could perhaps prevent the extreme. Perhaps it would contribute to finding a form of construction which would be much more far-reaching for Czechoslovakia than she could ever have hoped for in old Austria. His aim was only to create a necessary security for the German people.

"The hours went past. At 6 oclock the troops would march in. He was almost ashamed to say that there was one German division to each Czech battalion. The military action was no small one, but planned with all generosity. He would advise him now to retire with Chvalkovsky in order to discuss what should be done." (2798-PS)

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