The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Office of Strategic Services
Hitler Source Book
Failure of a Mission
Sir Neville Henderson

[Page 1]

Henderson, Failure of a mission- pg. 38/9

listening to speech at Lustgarten at arrival in Berlin. "...I found, as I had done in listening to his speeches on the radio when I was British Minister at Belgrade, his voice harsh and unsympathetic. But he had the gift of oratorical exhortation, and ."

Henderson, Failure of a mission- pg. 4O

" I once watched Hitler review his black- and brown-shirted army. The march past lasted for four hours, and practically throughout he remained with his right arm stretched out at the Nazi salute. I asked him afterwards how he managed to do it. His reply was, "Will-pwoer" - and I wondered how much of it was artifically cultivated. ..."

Henderson Failure of a mission - pg 40

"During my first year in Germany, I consistently asked those in closest touch with Hitler in what his chief quality consisted. I was told almost unanimously, in his "FINGERSPITZGEFUEHL" (tip-of-the-finger feeling), that is to say, his sense of opportunity, allied with clearness of mind and decision of purpose. The typical example which was quoted of this was his decision to reoccupty the Rhineland in 1936, which was taken contrary to the warning of his General Staff and of all his closest advisers.

Henderson, Failureof [sic] a mission pg. 42

"It will always be a matter of regret to me that I was never able to study Hitler in private life, as this might have given me the chance to see him under normal conditions and to talk to him as man to man. Except for a few brief words at chance meetings, I never met him except upon official, and invariably, disagreeable, business. He never attended informal parties at which diplomatists might be present, and when friends of mine did try to arrange it, he always got out of meeting me in such a manner on the ground of precedent. Up to a period in his career he was accessible to foreigners, to whome he readily accorded interviews, but he gradually became less so, and he had apparently a rooted aversion to private contacts with diplomatists, whom, as a category, he distrusted....

...He ws a true denmgogue, and crowds stimulated him, but social life of any sort bored him. He likedthe [sic] company of his intimate friends, whom he could harangue to his heart's delight; but he always looked self-conscious when he had to entertain the diplomatic corps, which happened normally three times a year....

"I was once asked by a German acquaintance who must, in view of his former official position, have had many talks with him, whether I ever managed during my interviews whith [sic] Hitler, to get a word in edge-ways. It was a curious observation, suggesting, as it did, that he himself never had. That was however, not my experience. He may not have heeded what I siad, and he may, like Ribbentrop, only have been thinking what he himself was going to say next, but he always seemed ready to listen, nor did he speechify to any unendurable extent. I once myself made him a little speech which lasted for five or ten minutes. Hisreply [sic] lasted three times as long, and thereafter, for obvious reasons, I avoided making speeches myself. If I thought his own were getting too long and that he was becoming carried by by his own oratory, I interrupted him nor did he ever seem to be offended by my so doing. My impression us that his emotional outbursts were not spontaneous, but that he deliberately worked himself up into a state of excitement..."

Henderson Failure of a mission, pg 43.

[Page 2]

pg. [unreadable]

"I never heard of him ever doing a generous action. On the other hand, one of his most maked [sic] characteristics was sheer vindictiveness, and his resentments were enduring and intensely disagreeable for anyone on whom it was in his power to exercise them. I am not surprised that his followers were afirad of him. They had plenty of examples of his capacity for revenge to intimidate them. His defect in this respect was his tragedy, as it is necessarily that of any dictator.... Unable to express views which may be contrary to those of their master, the best men leave him one by one. His entourage steadily and inexorably deteriorates, until at the end he is surrounded by mere yes-men whose flattery and acquiescence are alone endurable to him. That too, was Hitler's fate during the last year I spent in Berlin.

"On the day before the Coronation I was received by Hitler and presented my letters of credence. As it happened, the disaster to the airship Hindenburg had occurred just before my audience; there were rumours of foul play, and Hitler was in an excited mental state on the subject. It was always my fate to see him when he was under the stress of some emotion or other. We read to each other friendly set speeches, but he showed little interest until I expressed my condolence at the loss of his airship and of a number of German lives. He then invited my [sic] into another room to sit down, and told me that there had been several warning letters before the departure of the HINDERBURG, and that the whole airship had been searched from stem to stern before she left on her last journey. His attiturde towards me was quite friendly, but I was left again wondering wherein lay the secret of his hold over Germany."

pg. 48/48 Henderson FAILURE OF A MISSION.

....He was a spell-binder for his own people. that is self-evident; nor was there any doubt about his capacity to charm, if he set himself out to do so. It was part of his stock-in-trade, and I was more than once the spectator of its efficiency. But he never exerted it in my case, and I consequently never experienced it. In his reasonable moods I was often disconcerted by the sanity and logic of his arguments, but when he became excited, which was the mood which most influenced his countrymen, I had but one inclination, which was to beg him to calm down. He had considerable natural dignity and was invariably courteous, but to the last I continued to ask myself how he had risen and to what he was and how he maintained his ascendancy over the German people. ...

pg. 49 HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission.

"Many Germans have, in conversation with he, attributed Hitler's dynamic impatience to his alleged conviction, to which he himself frequently alluded, that his life was not destined to be a long one. He was so full of tricksthat [sic] I often wondered whether that assertion was not one of them....

Pg. 59, HENDERSON, Failure of a mission.

"In the midst of one of his tirades against the Poles in August 1939, I interrupoted Hitler to observe that he seemed to forget how useful the agreement with Pilsudski had been to him in 1934. Hitler's answer was that it had never been ofany use whatsoever, and that it had merely made him unpopular with his own people. He had a phenomenal capacity for self-deception, and was able to forget everything which he had ever said or done in the past, if it no longer suited his present or future purpose to remember it. ..."

pg. 62, HENDERSON, failure of a mission.

[Page 3]

"Hitler had just come back from Wilhelmshaven, whither the Deutschland had returned to bury the thirty-odd sailors who had been killed in the bomb attack at Iviza. He was as in the case of my first meeting with him after the Hinderburg disaster, in the emotional state into which he worked himself at the sight or report of any dead Germans. He refused to listen to any of my very logical arguments, and persisted in the standpoint that he could not at such moment permit his Foreign Minister to leave Germany. His attitude was so utterly unreasonable that I was at a loss to explain it even to myself.....

pg. 68, HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission

about Nuremberg 1937-

"Her [sic] Hitler was more friendly to me personally on that occasion than on any of the other on which I saw him. He was undoubtedly please at the attendance for the first time of the British, French, and American representatives, and he indicated that he attributed this innovation to my initiative. I took the opportunity to tell him that the invitation to Baron von Neurath to visit London remained open if he cared to avail himself of it. In this respect, however, he was at once and typically less forthcoming....

pg. 75, HENDERSON, Failure of a mission.

"It has been necessary to lay great stress on the incident of the Blomberg marriage. Both morally and materially its consequences were of the utmost importance. Not only did it- as mentioned above- cause Hitlers first brainstorm of the year, but there is good reason to believe that it radically altered his entire outlook on life. Thenceforward he became less human, and his fits of rage, real or simulated, more frequent. His faith in the fidelity of his followers was gravely shaken, and his inaccessibility became greatly accentuated....

pg. 110, HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission.

"I was received in the old Reichschancery, and was asked to sit down on a big sofa against the wall facing the window. On my left, on a small stool, was Dr. Schmidt taking notes. On his left again, in a semi-circle, Hitler himself in an armchair, and next to him and facing me, Herr von Ribbentrop. I began with a statement of my object in asking to see the Chancellor....

It was perhaps the longest continuous statement which I ever made to Hitler, and must have lasted for the best part of ten minutes. During all that time he remained crouching in his armchair with the most ferocious scowl on his face, which my firm, but at the same time conciliatory, remarks scarcely warranted. He listened, nevertheless, till I had finished and then let himself go. Nothing, he said, could be done until the Press campaign against him in England ceased (He never failed to harp on this subject in every conversation which I had with him.) Nor was he going to tolerate the interference of third parties in Central Europe..... The problem was, he continued, rendered particularly difficult "by the fact that one could place as much confidence in the faith in treaties of a barbarous creature like the Soviet Union as in the comprehension of mathematical formulae by a savage. Any agreement with the U.S.S.R. was quite worthless, and Russia should never have been allowed into Europe." It was impossible, he added, to have, for instance, any faith in any Soviet undertaking not to use poison gas. The sentences in inverted commas are Hitler's actual words as recorded in the written and carefully edited notes made and given to me at the time by Dr. Schmidt.

pg. 116, HENDERSON, Failure of a mission.

[Page 4]

When our long conversation, which must have lasted nearly two hours, was over, I produced from my pocket on leaving an extremely good drawing of the Chancellor which a lady from New Zealand had sent me, with the request that I might get it autographed. I asked Hitler to sign it, which he very readily did ( insuch respects he was always complaisant.) Whereunon I observed that whereas I, and presumably he, had got no other satisfacticn out of our interview, he would at least have given pleasure to one young woman. That also produced quite a genial smile. I cannot remember having ever got another from him."

p. 11(?), HENDERSON, Failure of a mission.

.." It was this, above all, this jubilation (of democ. powers) which gave Hitler the excuse for his third and worst brainstorm of the year,... His fit of sulks and fury lasted from May 23rd to May 28th,...

pg. 140, HENDERSON, Failure of a mission.

Berchtesgaden - Chamberlain.

There Hitler, surrounded by General Keitel and a few other members of his immediate entourage, received the Prime Minister on the top of the small flight of stairs which lead up to the entrance of his unpretentious mountain fastness.

The first item on the programme was tea, which was served in a semi-circle before the fireplace situated opposite the great window of the reception-room looking across the mountains to Salzburg. After twenty minutes of desultory conversation, the Chancellor suggested to the Prime Minister that they might begin their talk, and they disappeared, together with the reliable interpreter, Dr. Schmidt, into Hitler's study.

p. [unreadable] HENDERSON, Failure of a mission.


"When the Prime Minister had finished, Hitler asked whether he was to understand that the British, French and Czechoslovak Governments had in effect agreed to the transfer of the Sudenten territory from CZechoslovakia to Germany. The Prime Minister replied: "Yes" There was a slight pause, a silence in which Hitler appeared for a moment to be making up his mind. He then said decisively: "Es tut mir fuerchbar leid, eber das geht nicht mehr" ("I am exceedingly sorry, but that is no longer of any use"). The Prime Minister expressed his surprise and indignation;

p. 154/155, HENDERSON, Failure of a mission.

"..At 10.30 that night the conversations were resumed.

Although Hitler was 'in a much' less truculent mood, and even made an affort to appear conciliatory, his memorandum showed that he had not moderated his demands, which were presented in a most peremptory form and described by Hitler as his last word....

... It is characteristic of Hitler's methods of argument that when the Prime Minister pointed out that this was a sheer Dictate imposed on a country voluntarily surrendering a part of its territory without having been defeated in war, the Chancellor replied: "It is not a Dictate; look, the Document is headed by the word 'Memorandum' ."

In the course of the long discussion which followed, Hitler agreed to modify his time-table slightly, and he also made in his owm handwriting a number of minor alterations designed to attenuate the asperity of the

p. 157, Henderson

[Page 4]


of the memorandum, "You are the only man," he said somewhat bitterly to Mr. Chamberlain, "to whom I have ever made a concession." ....

p. 157, HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission.

"Sir. M. Wilson, accompanied by Kirkpatrick and myself, saw the Chancellor at 5 p.m. that afternoon. This interview also was stormy and unsatisfactory. Herr Hitlet could only with difficulty be persuaded to listen the Prime Minister's letter. At one point he shouted: "Es hat keinen Sinn weiter zu verhandoln" ("It is no use talking any more"), and he moved to the door as if to leave the room. Eventually he returned, and the conversation was resumed, but it was impossible to reach any satisfactory conclusion....

p. 199, HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission.

Sir H. Wilson with Hitler-

"In the course of this conversation Hitler shouted savagely on two or three occasions: Ich werde die Tschechen zerschlagen" which Herr Schmidt, the interpreter faithfully translated as: "I will smash-sh-sh the Czechs!"

...but Hitler declined to be convinced. "If France and England stricke [sic]", he shouted, "let them do so. It is a matter of complete indifference to me. I am prepared for every eventuality. I can only take note of the position. It is Tuesday to-day, and by next Monday we shall all be at war." On this depressing note the interview ended.

p. 160, HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission.

...The Italian intervention proved the final and decisive factor for peace. It enabled Hitler to climb down without losing face. His first remark to me when I saw him at 12.15, immediately after Poncet, was: "At the request of my great friend and ally, Signor Mussolini, I have postponed mobilising my troops for twentyfour hours."....

I gave Hitler the Prime Minister's message, and his reply was that he must consult again with SignorMusso!ini before giving me a definite answer. We dicussed fairly amicably the latest proposals of the French and Governments, and the Chancellor, though a little distrait, was not unreasonable. My interyiew with him, which lasted over an hour, was also interrupted by a second visit from the Italian Ambassador, this time to say that Signor Mussolini himself was prepared to accept ....... When Hitler rejoined us I failed to notice any particular change in his attitude. Yet neither before nor after was he other than comparatively amicab!e, though he shouted once or twice when he described the orders which he would give to Goering's air fleet if compelled to do so. I was, however, told afterwards that those who listened anxiously within earshot on the other side of the door had feared from the noise, that things were going badly. I had, however, become used by this time to Hitler' s neurotic outbursts, and had been not unfavourably impressed.

p. 164/165, HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission.

[Page 6]

"..When I first met him, his logic and sense of realities had impressed me, but as time went on he appeared to me to become more and more unreasonable, and more and more convinced of his own infallibility and greatness." ...

p. 177 HENDERSON, Failure of a mission.

Before occupation of Prague-

"..My first indication of immenent trouble was at the annual banquet which Hitler gave to the diplomatic corps, somewhat later than usual, on March 1st. After dinner Hitler used to remain standing in the drawing-room, and would speak for some five or ten minutes in turn to each of the Heads of Missions in the order of their precedence. The apparent friendliness which he had shown at the motor exhibition was notably absent at this dinner. At the exhibition he had shaken me by the hand not once, but three times. On this occasion he carefully avoided looking me in the face when he was speaking to me; he kept his eyes fixed over my right shoulder and confined his remarks to general subjects, while stressing the point that it was not Britain's business to interfere with Germany in Central Europe. I had heard it all before, but, though he said nothing new or startling, his attitude left me with a feeling of vague uneasiness. In the light of wisdom after the event, I have no doubt that he was already weighing the various contingencies in regrad to Prague, and making his plans for March 15th. He was contemplating his breach of faith with Mr. Chamberlain, and I was reminded of my meeting with him on March 3rd of the year before, when he was similarly preoccupied about Vienna.
p. 200/201, HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission.

Czech atrocities*

"It is difficult to believe that these machinations were not an intrinsic part of Hitler's own schemes, yet it seems but fair to relate that I heard some months later a story, which seemed to indicate that they were not. On his arrival at Prague on March 15th, one of the first things which Hitl. expressed a wish to do was to visit the hospitals. His entourage- probably soldiers, and consequently less well informed than Himmler's black-shirts- asked him for what purpose. "To visit the German wounded victims of Czech ill-treatment" was hitler's answer. As there were none, his followers had some difficulty in persuading him that such a visit would be useless. Possibly they induced him to believe that they existed everywhere except in Prague itself, but if the story is true- and my source was both a Czech and a good one-it would seem to indicate that some of the Party were even more impatient that Hitler himself.....

p. 206/207, HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission.

"Whatever virtues Hitler may possess, generosity is certainly not one of them; personally, I was struck on several occasions, when generosity might have profited him, by the complete absence of that quality in his make up. Dr, Hacha was an old and weak man, and his daughter travelled with him in order to look after him. He was received with the honours due to the head of a State- or a condemned prisoner before execution- and his daughter was given a bouquet of flowers by Rfbbentrop at the station. On their arrival at the Adlon Hotel who was presented with a box of chocolates from Hitler! But that was the limit to which his generosity went.

p. 207 , HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission.

[Page 7]

August 23, 1939

"I reached Salzburg about midday, and I had my first audience with Hitler at Berchtesgaden at 1 p.m., in the presence of Baron von Weizsacker and Herr Hewel. ...At my first interview with him on that day, Hitler was in a mood of extreme exitability [sic]. His language as regards the Poles and British responsibility for the Polish attitude was violent, to 1OO,00 German refugees from Poland- a figure whichwas [sic] at least five times greater than the reality. Again, I cannot say whether he was persuaded, or persuaded himself, of the reality of these figures. At my second interview, when he handed me his reply, he had recovered his calm, but was not less obdurate. Everything was Englands fault. She had encouraged the Czechs last year, and she was now giving a blank cheque to Poland. No longer, he told me, did he trust Mr. Chamberlain. He preferred war, he said, when he was fifty to when he was fifty-five or sixty. He had himself always sought, and believed in the possibility of friendship with England. He now realised, he said, that those who had argued the contrary had been right, and nothing short of a complete change in British policy towards Germany could ever convince him of any sincere British desire for good relations. My last remark to him was that I could only deduce from his language that my mission to Germany had failed, and that I bitterly regretted it.

p. 257, HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission.

August 25th.

My interview with Hitler, at which Herr von Ribbentrop and Dr. Schmidt were also present, lasted on this occasion over an hour. The Chancellor spoke with calm and apparent sincerity. He described his proposels as a last effort, for conscience's sake, to secure good relations with Great Britain, ........

August 28th, 1939

..and at 10.30 that evening I :as received by Herr Hitler at the Reichschancery, and handed to him the British reply, together with a German translation. Hitler was once again friendly and reasonable, and appeared to be not dissatisfied with the answer which I had brought to him. He observed, however, that he must study it carefully and would give me a written reply the next day. Our conversation lasted for well over hour, and it was nearly midnight before I got back to the Embassy. It was I think, the only one of my interviews with Hitler at which it was I who did most of the talking.

Other remarks in Blue Book- White Paper-
pg. 259, HENDERSON, Failure of a Mission
p 262 "

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