May 31, 2017

1934. Despite Promises of Peace, Hitler Aims for Empire

"Vast New Empire Held Hitler Ideal"
Map featured in The New York Times on March 27, 1938
This article is part of a series of posts on how The New York Times covered the rise of fascism in the years leading up to World War II. On August 19, 1934, Adolf Hitler held a referendum meant to legitimize his position as Führer by merging the offices of Chancellor and President following the death of President Hindenburg. The referendum came less than two months after the Night of the Long Knives.

After Hindenburg's death, French Senator Henry Bérenger warned the world not to trust Hitler's transparent reassurances of peace, writing:
"He will content himself with peace because war seems unnecessary. But he is preparing for war just the same, because what Hitler calls the best of Europe will never permit Germany to reinstall herself both at Vienna and Berlin, for that would mean tomorrow her appearance at Trieste, Strasbourg, Belgrade, Prague and Memel."
From The New York Times, August 14, 1934:
He Aims at a Holy Roman Nation of All Germans With Vienna Capital, Says Bérenger
Amity in Europe to Depend on Checking of Reich Dictator, French Leader Thinks
President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Senate

PARIS, Aug. 13 — Once again Adolf Hitler has made declarations of peace to the whole world. These declarations have a twofold importance.

First, they take the place of a speech on foreign affairs which the Chancellor was to have made after the German tragedy of June 30, but which he abandoned owing to the emotion aroused by that tragedy.

Second, these declarations come after President von Hindenburg's death and his replacement by Hitler, now become the Reichsführer of Germany.

Hence it is quite natural that the opinion the world over should have been profoundly impressed by the iterations of peace lavished in this interview with the correspondent of an English newspaper.

Are these affirmations of peace as reassuring as part of the world's press seems to believe? So far as the immediate present is concerned one may reply "Yes." But for the future—the not too distant future—one feels obliged to say "No."

Dictators Are Hypocritical

In fact it is less a question of knowing whether Hitler is sincere than of examining the nature of his sincerity. There is always a large admixture of hypocrisy in the temperament of dictators. The biographies of Caesar, Louis XI, Cromwell, Napoleon and Bismarck—to speak only of the dead—furnish superabundant examples. Hitler does not escape this general trait of tyrannical wills.

They are obliged to dissimulate long and often to achieve by steps the supreme ascent they planned from the start. Their inner ideals are sincere but they are hypocrites in the external means they employ. To understand and judge them properly, their secret must be laid bare. And that is often only revealed at the very end of their vital effort.

This is the case for Hitler, whose progressive rise toward absolute power will astonish only superficial and inconstant minds.

"So far as it depends on Germany there will be no war. Germany will take up arms only if attacked," Hitler declared.

We can readily believe that the Reichsführer spoke sincerely to the English journalist. Hitler, who is the incarnation of post-war Germany, does not want a new war because he believes it is unnecessary to the realization of his plan of action, which is the accomplishment of Pan-Germanism.

All Germans Have His Ideal

"All that was German must become German again within the unity of the enlarged Reich." This is Hitler's ideal, which also is that of 80,000,000 Germans who are alike devoted to this "Deustchtum" and hail in him a popular hero who knows how to achieve a complete Germany without war.

Hitler's secret thus lies less in his plan than in the political art by which he can achieve successive stages by means of a series of gestures apparently completely separated from the other. But if these pictures are fitted together, if these gestures are grouped, it will be seen that the plan is daily advancing.

The apparently obscure reply made by Hitler on the subject of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire must be examined in this light. "We shall not attack Austria, but we naturally cannot prevent the Austrians from renewing the ties which once bound them to Germany," he said. "Until 1866 Germany and Austria were united."

Hitler thus becomes once more the author of "Mein Kampf," the Austrian-German who cursed the Hapsburgs and the Jews for helping Bismarck to separate Austria from Germany. That is is deepest hatred. His most forceful thought is: Rebuild nothing less than the Austro-German Empire, of which Vienna would become again the historic capital. A holy city purified at last.

Silent on One Question

It is thus that we must understand the stony silence with which he greeted the English journalist's question, "Does Your Excellency contemplate the restoration of the Holy Roman Empire?" Hitler was silent but he did not say "no."

The Holy Roman Empire, that is to say a reunion of all Germans around Vienna, capital at once of the Danube, the Rhine and the Oder, that is, in fact, Hitler's supreme goal, the youthful dream which remains for him to realize in ripe manhood. It was in this spirit that he refused the title of President of the Reich, on the pretext that von Hindenburg had made it impossible for any other German to assume it, but for the deeper reason that an Austro-German like Hitler ought to look higher still—up to the succession of the Hohenstaufens that the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns were weak enough to allow to lapse after Sadowa.

Such an ambition might seem medieval megalomania anywhere but Germany, but before smiling and shrugging one's shoulders one must remember that the Middle Ages furnish the natural atmosphere for Germany and that Hitler's dream corresponds to the yearning of more than 80,000,000 Germans between Tyrol and Brandenburg and from the Baltic to the Adriatic.

Hitler knows that he must wait. He says so and says why, but he does not give up; he renounces nothing. He is not one who sells his birthright for a mess of pottage, even if that mess of pottage should be the Presidency of the Reich. The rest of Europe being too strong to be unnecessarily challenged, the Reichsführer knows how to wait, and Germany will wait with him.

Von Papen will be sent to Vienna to keep the ball rolling by embroiling Vienna with Rome and the Vatican. Who knows whether craft will not succeed where violence has failed?

Such is the Reichsführer's secret. It is that of Pan-Germanism itself. He will content himself with peace because war seems unnecessary. But he is preparing for war just the same, because what Hitler calls the best of Europe will never permit Germany to reinstall herself both at Vienna and Berlin, for that would mean tomorrow her appearance at Trieste, Strasbourg, Belgrade, Prague and Memel.

Peace will remain in Europe only on the condition that Europe knows where Hitler wishes to mount and where he must not be allowed to mount.