On November 5, 1937, Adolf Hitler held a secret conference in the Reich
Chancellery during which he revealed his plans for the acquisition of Lebensraum,
or living space, for the German people at the expense of other nations
Present at this conference were; German War Minister, Werner von Blomberg,
Commander in Chief of the Army, Werner von Fritsch, Commander in Chief
of the Navy, Erich Raeder, Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann
Göring, Foreign Minister, Constantin von Neurath, and Colonel Friedrich
Hossbach who took the minutes of the conference. The meeting has thus come
to be known as the Hossbach Conference or Hossbach Memorandum.
Hitler began by swearing the men to secrecy, then told them that in
the event of his death the following exposition should be regarded as his
last will and testament.
He proceeded to explain that Germany had "a tightly packed racial
core" and was entitled to acquire "greater living space than
in the case of other peoples..."
"The history of all ages - the Roman Empire and the British Empire
- had proved that expansion could only be carried out by breaking down
resistance and taking risks...there had never been spaces without a master...the
attacker always comes up against a possessor," Hitler said. "The
question for Germany ran: where could she achieve the greatest gain at
the lowest cost?"
He pointed out two big problems, "...two hate inspired antagonists,
Britain and France, to whom a German colossus in the center of Europe was
a thorn in the flesh..."
"Germany's problem could only be solved by means of force,"
but "there remain still to be answered the questions 'when' and 'how'..."
Hitler said military action was to be taken by 1943-1945 at the latest,
to guard against military obsolescence, the aging of the Nazi movement,
and "it was while the rest of the world was still preparing its defenses
that we were obliged to take the offensive."
The primary objective would be to seize Czechoslovakia and Austria to
protect Germany's eastern and southern flanks. Hitler went through three
different strategies (shown below as cases 1-3) designed to capitalize
on the present and future military and political problems of France and
Hitler's casual acceptance of the immense risks of starting a war in
Europe shocked his colleagues, especially Blomberg and Fritsch who "repeatedly
emphasized the necessity that Britain and France must not appear in the
roles of our enemies."
Following the conference, an overwhelmed Neurath suffered several heart
attacks and asked to be relieved from his post.
Some historians have suggested Hitler's blunt talk was simply intended
to prod Blomberg and Fritsch into accelerating re-armament. However, their
continuing opposition to Hitler's war plans resulted in their removals
via trumped up scandals within three months. With the removal of the top
echelon of the Army, Hitler himself assumed supreme command, with Wilhelm
Keitel as chief of the high command.
Following the war, the Hossbach Memorandum was used in the Nuremberg
war crimes trials as evidence of conspiracy to wage war, specifically targeting
Göring. The memorandum also served to expose the ruthless cynicism
of Hitler who repeatedly proclaimed a desire for peace in public, all the
while laying out plans for war in Europe.
COMPLETE MINUTES OF THE CONFERENCE
IN THE REICH CHANCELLERY,
NOVEMBER 5, 1937, FROM 4:15 to 8:30 p.m.
Present: The Führer and Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Field Marshal
von Blomberg, War Minister, Colonel General Baron von Fritsch, Commander
in Chief, Army, Admiral Dr. h.c. Raeder, Commander in Chief, Navy, Colonel
General Göring, Commander in Chief, Luftwaffe, Baron von Neurath,
Foreign Minister, Colonel Hossbach.
The Führer began by stating that the subject of the present conference
was of such importance that its discussion would, in other countries, certainly
be a matter for a full Cabinet meeting, but he -- the Führer -- had
rejected the idea of making it a subject of discussion before the
wider circle of the Reich Cabinet just because of the importance of the
matter. His exposition to follow was the fruit of thorough deliberation
and the experiences of his four and a half years of power. He wished to
explain to the gentlemen present his basic ideas concerning the opportunities
for the development of our position in the field of foreign affairs and
its requirements, and he asked, in the interests of a long term German
policy, that his exposition be regarded, in the event of his death, as
his last will and testament.
The Führer then continued: The aim of German policy was to make
secure and to preserve the racial community and to enlarge it. It was therefore
a question of space.
The German racial community comprised over 85 million people and, because
of their number and the narrow limits of habitable space in Europe, constituted
a tightly packed racial core such as was not to be met in any other country
and such as implied the right to a greater living space than in the case
of other peoples. If, territorially speaking, there existed no political
result corresponding to this German racial core, that was a consequence
of centuries of historical development, and in the continuance of these
political conditions lay the greatest danger to the preservation of the
German race at its present peak. To arrest the decline of Germanism in
Austria and Czechoslovakia was as little possible as to maintain the present
level in Germany itself. Instead of increase, sterility was setting in,
and in its train disorders of a social character must arise in course of
time, since political and ideological ideas remain effective only so long
as they furnish the basis for the realization of the essential vital demands
of a people. Germany's future was therefore wholly conditional upon the
solving of the need for space, and such a solution could be sought, of
course, only for a foreseeable period of about one to three generations.
Before turning to the question of solving the need for space, it had
to be considered whether a solution holding promise for the future was
to be reached by means of autarchy or by means of an increased participation
in world economy.
Achievement only possible under strict National Socialist leadership
of the State, which is assumed; accepting its achievement as possible,
the following could be stated as results:
A. In the field of raw materials only limited, not total, autarchy.
(l) In regard to coal, so far as it could be considered as a
source of raw materials, autarchy was possible.
(2) But even as regards ores, the position was much more difficult.
Iron requirements can be met from home resources and similarly with light
metals, but with other raw materials -- copper, tin -- this was not the
(3) Synthetic textile requirements can be met from home resources
to the limit of timber supplies. A permanent solution is impossible.
(4) Edible fats-possible.
B. In the field of food the question of autarchy was to be answered
by a flat "No."
With the general rise in the standard of living compared with that of
30 to 40 years ago, there has gone hand in hand an increased demand and
an increased home consumption even on the part of the producers, the farmers.
The fruits of the increased agricultural production had all gone to meet
the increased demand, and so did not represent an absolute production increase.
A further increase in production by making greater demands on the soil,
which already, in consequence of the use of artificial fertilizers, was
showing signs of exhaustion, was hardly possible, and it was therefore
certain that even with the maximum increase in production, participation
in world trade was unavoidable. The not inconsiderable expenditure of foreign
exchange to insure food supplies by imports, even when harvests were good,
grew to catastrophic proportions with bad harvests. The possibility of
a disaster grew in proportion to the increase in population, in which,
too, the excess of births of 560,000 annually produced, as a consequence,
an even further increase in bread consumption, since a child was a greater
bread consumer than an adult.
It was not possible over the long run, in a continent enjoying a practically
common standard of living, to meet the food supply difficulties by lowering
that standard and by rationalization. Since, with the solving of the unemployment
problem, the maximum consumption level had been reached, some minor modifications
in our home agricultural production might still, no doubt, be possible,
but no fundamental alteration was possible in our basic food position.
Thus autarchy was untenable in regard both to food and to the economy as
Participation in World Economy
To this there were limitations which we were unable to remove. The establishment
of Germany's position on a secure and sound foundation was obstructed by
market fluctuations, and commercial treaties afforded no guarantee for
actual execution. In particular it had to remembered that since the World
War, those very countries which had formerly been food exporters had become
industrialized. We were living in an age of economic empires in which the
primitive urge to colonization was again manifesting itself; in the cases
of Japan and Italy economic motives underlay the urge for expansion, and
with Germany, too, economic need would supply the stimulus. For countries
outside the great economic empires, opportunities for economic expansion
were severely impeded.
The boom in world economy caused by the economic effects of rearmament
could never form the basis of a sound economy over a long period, and the
latter was obstructed above all also by the economic disturbances resulting
from Bolshevism. There was a pronounced military weakness in those states
which depended for their existence on foreign trade. As our foreign trade
was carried on over the sea routes dominated by Britain, it was more a
question of security of transport than one of foreign exchange, which revealed,
in time of war, the full weakness of our food situation. The only remedy,
and one which might appear to us as visionary, lay in the acquisition of
greater living space -- a quest which has at all times been the origin
of the formation of states and of the migration of peoples. That this quest
met with no interest at Geneva or among the satiated nations was understandable.
If, then, we accept the security of our food situation as the principle
question, the space necessary to insure it can only be sought in Europe,
not, as in the liberal-capitalist view, in the exploitation of colonies.
It is not a matter of acquiring population but of gaining space for agricultural
use. Moreover, areas producing raw materials can be more usefully sought
in Europe in immediate proximity to the Reich, than overseas; the solution
thus obtained must suffice for one or two generations. Whatever else might
prove necessary later must be left to succeeding generations to deal with.
The development of great world political constellations progressed but
slowly after all, and the German people with its strong racial core would
find the most favorable prerequisites for such achievement in the heart
of the continent of Europe. The history of all ages -- the Roman Empire
and the British Empire -- had proved that expansion could only be carried
out by breaking down resistance and taking risks; setbacks were inevitable.
There had never in former times been spaces without a master, and there
were none today; the attacker always comes up against a possessor.
The question for Germany ran: where could she achieve the greatest gain
at the lowest cost?
German policy had to reckon with two hate-inspired antagonists, Britain
and France, to whom a German colossus in the center of Europe was a thorn
in the flesh, and both countries were opposed to any further strengthening
of Germany's position either in Europe or overseas; in support of this
opposition they were able to count on the agreement of all their political
parties. Both countries saw in the establishment of German military bases
overseas a threat to their own communications, a safeguarding of German
commerce, and, as a consequence, a strengthening of Germany's position
Because of opposition of the Dominions, Britain could not cede any of
her colonial possessions to us. After England's loss of prestige through
the passing of Abyssinia into Italian possession, the return of East Africa
was not to be expected. British concessions could at best be expressed
in an offer to satisfy our colonial demands by the appropriation of colonies
which were not British possessions - e.g., Angola. French concessions would
probably take a similar line.
Serious discussion of the question of the return of colonies to us could
only be considered at a moment when Britain was in difficulties and the
German Reich armed and strong. The Führer did not share the view that
the Empire was unshakable. Opposition to the Empire was to be found less
in the countries conquered than among her competitors. The British Empire
and the Roman Empire could not be compared in respect of permanence; the
latter was not confronted by any powerful political rival of a serious
order after the Punic Wars. It was only the disintegrating effect of Christianity,
and the symptoms of age which appear in every country, which caused ancient
Rome to succumb to the onslaught of the Germans.
Beside the British Empire there exist today a number of states stronger
than she. The British motherland was able to protect her colonial possessions
not by her own power, but only in alliance with other states. How, for
instance, could Britain alone defend Canada against attack by America,
or her Far Eastern interests against attack by Japan!
The emphasis on the British Crown as the symbol of the unity of the
Empire was already an admission that, in the long run, the Empire could
not maintain its position by power politics. Significant indications of
(a) The struggle of Ireland for independence.
(b) The constitutional struggles in India, where Britain's
half measures had given to the Indians the opportunity of using later on
as a weapon against Britain, the nonfulfillment of her promises regarding
(c) The weakening by Japan of Britain's position in the
(d) The rivalry in the Mediterranean with Italy who -- under the spell
of her history, driven by necessity and led by a genius -- was expanding
her power position, and thus was inevitable coming more and more into conflict
with British interests. The outcome of the Abyssinian War was a loss of
prestige for Britain which Italy was striving to increase by stirring up
trouble in the Mohammedan world.
To sum up, it could be stated that, with 45 million Britons, in spite
of its theoretical soundness, the position of the Empire could not in the
long run be maintained by power politics. The ratio of the population of
the Empire to that of the motherland of 9:1, was a warning to us not, in
our territorial expansion, to allow the foundation constituted by the numerical
strength of our own people to become too weak.
France's position was more favorable than that of Britain. The French
Empire was better placed territorially; the inhabitants of her colonial
possessions represented a supplement to her military strength. But France
was going to be confronted with internal political difficulties. In a nation's
life about 10 percent of its span is taken up by parliamentary forms of
government and about 90 percent by authoritarian forms. Today, nonetheless,
Britain, France, Russia, and the smaller states adjoining them, must be
included as factors in our political calculations.
Germany's problem could only be solved by means of force and this was
never without attendant risk. The campaigns of Frederick the Great for
Silesia and Bismarck's wars against Austria and France had involved unheard
of risk, and the swiftness of the Prussian action in 1870 had kept Austria
from entering the war. If one accepts as the basis of the following exposition
the resort to force with its attendant risks, then there remain still to
be answered the questions "when" and "how." In this
matter there were three cases to be dealt with:
Case 1: Period 1943-1945
After this date only a change for the worse, from our point of view,
could be expected.
The equipment of the army, navy, and Luftwaffe, as well as the
formation of the officer corps, was nearly completed. Equipment and armament
were modern; in further delay there lay the danger of their obsolescence.
In particular, the secrecy of "special weapons" could not be
preserved forever. The recruiting of reserves was limited to current age
groups; further drafts from older untrained age groups were no longer available.
Our relative strength would decrease in relation to the rearmament which
would by then have been carried out by the rest of the world. If we did
not act by 1943-45, any year could, in consequence of a lack of reserves,
produce the food crisis, to cope with which the necessary foreign exchange
was not available, and this must be regarded as a "warning point of
the regime." Besides, the world was expecting our attack and was increasing
its countermeasures from year to year. It was while the rest of the world
was still preparing its defenses that we were obliged to take the offensive.
Nobody knew today what the situation would be in the years 1943-45.
One thing only was certain, that we could not wait longer.
On the one hand there was the great Wehrmacht, and the necessity
of maintaining it at its present level, the aging of the movement and of
its leaders; and on the other, the prospect of a lowering of the standard
of living and of a limitation of the birth rate, which left no choice but
to act. If the Führer was still living, it was his unalterable resolve
to solve Germany's problem of space at the latest by 1943-45. The necessity
for action before 1943-45 would arise in cases 2 and 3.
If internal strife in France should develop into such a domestic crisis
as to absorb the French Army completely and render it incapable of use
for war against Germany, then the time for action against the Czechs had
If France is so embroiled by a war with another state that she cannot
"proceed" against Germany.
For the improvement of our politico-military position our first objective,
in the event of our being embroiled in war, must be to overthrow Czechoslovakia
and Austria simultaneously in order to remove the threat to our flank in
any possible operation against the west. In a conflict with France it was
hardly to be regarded as likely that the Czechs would declare war on us
on the very same day as France. The desire to join in the war would, however,
increase among the Czechs in proportion to any weakening on our part and
then her participation could clearly take the form of an attack toward
Silesia, toward the north or toward the west.
If the Czechs were overthrown and a common German-Hungarian frontier
achieved, a neutral attitude on the part of Poland could be the more certainly
counted on in the event of a Franco-German conflict. Our agreements with
Poland only retained their force as long as Germany's strength remained
unshaken. In the event of German setbacks a Polish action against East
Prussia, and possibly against Pomerania and Silesia as well, had to be
On the assumption of a development of the situation leading to action
on our part as planned, in the years 1943-45, the attitude of France, Britain,
Italy, Poland, and Russia could probably be estimated as follows:
Actually, the Führer believed that almost certainly Britain, and
probably France as well, had already tacitly written off the Czechs and
were reconciled to the fact that this question would be cleared up in due
course by Germany. Difficulties connected with the Empire, and the prospect
of being once more entangled in a protracted European war, were decisive
considerations for Britain against participation in a war against Germany.
Britain's attitude would certainly not be without influence on that of
France. An attack by France without British support, and with the prospect
of the offensive being brought to a standstill on our western fortifications,
was hardly probable. Nor was a French march through Belgium and Holland
without British support to be expected; this also was a course not to be
contemplated by us in the event of a conflict with France, because it would
certainly entail the hostility of Britain. It would of course be necessary
to maintain a strong defense on our western frontier during the prosecution
of our attack on the Czechs and Austria. And in this connection it had
to be remembered that the defense measures of the Czechs were growing in
strength from year to year, and that the actual worth of the Austrian Army
also was increasing in the course of time. Even though the populations
concerned, especially of Czechoslovakia, were not sparse, the annexation
of Czechoslovakia and Austria would mean an acquisition of foodstuffs for
5 to 6 million people, on the assumption that the compulsory emigration
of 2 million people from Czechoslovakia and 1 million people from Austria
was practicable. The incorporation of these two States with Germany meant,
from the politico-military point of view, a substantial advantage because
it would mean shorter and better frontiers, the freeing of forces for
other purposes, and the possibility of creating new units up to a level
of about 12 divisions, that is, 1 new division per million inhabitants.
Italy was not expected to object to the elimination of the Czechs, but
it was impossible at the moment to estimate what her attitude on the Austrian
question would be; that depended essentially upon whether the Duce were
The degree of surprise and the swiftness of our action were decisive
factors for Poland's attitude. Poland -- with Russia at her rear -- will
have little inclination to engage in war against a victorious Germany.
Military intervention by Russia must be countered by the swiftness of
our operations; however, whether such an intervention was a practical contingency
at all was, in view of Japan's attitude, more than doubtful.
Should case 2 arise -- the crippling of France by civil war -- the situation
thus created by the elimination of the most dangerous opponent must be
seized upon whenever it occurs for the blow against the Czechs.
The Führer saw case 3 coming definitely nearer; it might emerge
from the present tensions in the Mediterranean, and he was resolved to
take advantage of it whenever it happened, even as early as 1938.
In the light of past experience, the Führer did not see any early
end to the hostilities in Spain. If one considered the length of time which
Franco's offensives had taken up till now, it was fully possible that the
war would continue for another 3 years. On the other hand, a 100 percent
victory for Franco was not desirable either, from the German point of view;
rather were we interested in a continuation of the war and in the keeping
up of the tension in the Mediterranean. Franco in undisputed possession
of the Spanish Peninsula precluded the possibility of any further intervention
on the part of the Italians or of their continued occupation of Balearic
Islands. As our interest lay more in the prolongation of the war in Spain,
it must be the immediate aim of our policy to strengthen Italy's rear with
a view to her remaining in the Balearics. But the permanent establishment
of the Italians on the Balearics would be intolerable both to France and
Britain, and might lead to a war of France and England against Italy --
a war in which Spain, should she be entirely in the hands of the Whites,
might make her appearance on the side of Italy's enemies. The probability
of Italy's defeat in such a war was slight, for the road from Germany was
open for the supplementing of her raw materials. The Führer pictured
the military strategy for Italy thus: on her western frontier with France
she would remain on the defensive, and carry on the war against France
from Libya against the French North African colonial possessions.
As a landing by Franco-British troops on the coast of Italy could be
discounted, and a French offensive over the Alps against northern Italy
would be very difficult and would probably come to a halt before the strong
Italian fortifications, the crucial point of the operations lay in North
Africa. The threat to French lines of communication by the Italian Fleet
would to a great extent cripple the transportation of forces from North
Africa to France, so that France would have only home forces at her disposal
on the frontiers with Italy and Germany.
If Germany made use of this war to settle the Czech and Austrian questions,
it was to be assumed that Britain -- herself at war with Italy -- would
decide not to act against Germany. Without British support, a warlike action
by France against Germany was not to be expected.
The time for our attack on the Czechs and Austria must be made dependent
on the course of the Anglo-French-Italian war and would not necessarily
coincide with the commencement of military operations by these three States.
Nor had the Führer in mind military agreements with Italy, but wanted,
while retaining his own independence of action, to exploit this favorable
situation, which would not occur again, to begin and carry through the
campaign against the Czechs. This descent upon the Czechs would have to
be carried out with "lightning speed."
In appraising the situation Field Marshal von Blomberg and Colonel General
von Fritsch repeatedly emphasized the necessity that Britain and France
must not appear in the role of our enemies, and stated that the French
Army would not be so committed by the war with Italy that France could
not at the same time enter the field with forces superior to ours on our
western frontier. General von Fritsch estimated the probable French forces
available for use on the Alpine frontier at approximately twenty divisions,
so that a strong French superiority would still remain on the western frontier,
with the role, according to the German view, of invading the Rhineland.
In this matter, moreover, the advanced state of French defense preparations
must be taken into particular account, and it must be remembered apart
from the insignificant value of our present fortifications -- on which
Field Marshal von Blomberg laid special emphasis -- that the four motorized
divisions intended for the West were still more or less incapable of movement.
In regard to our offensive toward the southeast, Field Marshal von Blomberg
drew particular attention to the strength of the Czech fortifications,
which had acquired by now a structure like a Maginot Line and which would
gravely hamper our attack.
General von Fritsch mentioned that this was the very purpose of a study
which he had ordered made this winter, namely, to examine the possibility
of conducting operations against the Czechs with special reference to overcoming
the Czech fortification system; the General further expressed his opinion
that under existing circumstances he must give up his plan to go abroad
on his leave, which was due to begin on November 10. The Führer dismissed
this idea on the ground that the possibility of a conflict need not yet
be regarded as so imminent. To the Foreign Minister's objection that an
Anglo-French-Italian conflict was not yet within such a measurable distance
as the Führer seemed to assume, the Führer put the summer of
1938 as the date which seemed to him possible for this. In reply to considerations
offered by Field Marshal von Blomberg and General von Fritsch regarding
the attitude of Britain and France, the Führer repeated his previous
statements that he was convinced of Britain's nonparticipation, and therefore
he did not believe in the probability of belligerent action by France against
Germany. Should the Mediterranean conflict under discussion lead to a general
mobilization in Europe, then we must immediately begin action against the
Czechs. On the other hand, should the powers not engaged in the war declare
themselves disinterested, then Germany would have to adopt a similar attitude
to this for the time being.
Colonel General Göring thought that, in view of the Führer's
statement, we should consider liquidating our military undertakings in
Spain. The Führer agrees to this with the limitation that he thinks
he should reserve a decision for a proper moment.
The second part of the conference was concerned with concrete questions
Colonel (General Staff)