From the very beginning of his career until his dying day, Adolf Hitler
had just two major goals. His primary goal was the forcible acquisition
of Lebensraum (living space) for the German people. Secondly, he desired
some kind of final reckoning with the Jews.
The first steps toward Lebensraum occurred in 1935 when Hitler openly
violated the Treaty of Versailles by reintroducing military conscription
and began rapidly rebuilding the German Army. Hitler then managed to negotiate
a naval pact with Britain allowing Germany to have a Navy totaling 35 percent
of Britain's fleet, along with a submarine fleet equal in size.
Hitler realized that world leaders were becoming increasingly nervous
as Germany re-armed, given the country's role in the catastrophic World
War some twenty years earlier. He continually reassured diplomats, and
anyone else who would listen, that Germany's military buildup was solely
a defensive measure designed to put the country on an equal footing with
surrounding nations. After all, he would ask, didn't Germany have a right
to defend itself like every other nation?
Hitler would answer his own question in the affirmative while in the
same breath promising that Germany would never break the peace. To emphasize
the point, Hitler uttered some remarkable statements concerning the horrors
of war, which he had witnessed first-hand as a frontline soldier. On May
21, 1935, he declared during a major speech: "The blood shed on the
European continent in the course of the last three hundred years bears
no proportion to the national result of the events. In the end, France
had remained France, Germany Germany, Poland Poland, and Italy Italy. What
dynastic egotism, political passion and patriotic blindness have attained
in the way of apparently far-reaching political changes by shedding rivers
of blood has, as regards national feeling, done no more than touched the
skin of nations. It has not substantially altered their fundamental characters.
If these states had applied merely a fraction of their sacrifices to wiser
purposes the success would certainly have been greater and more permanent."
The leaders of France and Britain, and Hitler's smaller next-door neighbors,
were naturally quite impressed by such sentiments. Years later, they would
find out that on the very day Hitler spoke those words he had also approved
a secret Reich Defense Law which put Germany on a war economy and revived
the Army's General Staff organization, which had been banned after World
Most diplomats mistakenly took Hitler at his word and thought he was
a man they could reason with, perhaps even trust. This, of course, was
precisely what Hitler wanted them to think. He had them all at a distinct
disadvantage, since they could never actually know what was in his mind.
They didn't know they were dealing with a man who routinely used lies as
a tool to achieve his long-range goals.
Hitler could look anyone in the eye and lie with the utmost sincerity.
He would also lie to the whole world via radio broadcasts, endlessly proclaiming
his desire for peace, even his love of peace, all the while secretly preparing
for another catastrophic war.
|Germany's highest-ranking military leaders chat during an appearance at the Nuremberg Rally in September 1936. From the left is Field Marshal von Blomberg, War Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces; Colonel-General von Fritsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army; and Admiral Raeder, Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. Below: A look at Hitler's long-serving military adjutant Friedrich Hossbach - seen as a major in 1934. He took the meeting notes during the secret Führer conference on November 5th, 1937.
| Below: A glimpse inside the (old) Reich Chancellery building.
The people of Germany and many of the Reich's top leaders had no idea
of the depth of their Führer's cynicism, but they would all find out
sooner or later. For Germany's top Army leaders that revelation came on
November 5th, 1937, when Hitler called a secret conference and bluntly outlined
his plans to acquire Lebensraum at the expense of other nations.
The meeting was convened inside the Reich Chancellery
in Berlin at 4:15 p.m. Incredibly, earlier on that same day, Hitler had
met with Poland's ambassador and signed a treaty assuring that Germany
would respect Poland's territorial rights.
Present at the secret afternoon conference were Germany's two Army commanders;
Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, the Commander-in-Chief of the German
Armed Forces, and General Werner von Fritsch, the Commander-in-Chief of
the Army. Also in attendance was Navy Chief Erich Raeder, along with Hermann
Göring who headed Germany's new Air Force (among his many other duties).
Foreign Minister Constantin von Neurath was there, along with Colonel Friedrich
Hossbach, Hitler's military adjutant, who took the complete
minutes of the meeting which has come to be known as the Hossbach Conference
or Hossbach Memorandum.
Hitler began the four-hour-long meeting by asking each of the men to
swear an oath of secrecy. He then informed them that in the event of his
untimely death the following exposition should be regarded as his last
will and testament.
He started the exposition by explaining his theory of Lebensraum, stating
that Germany had "a tightly packed racial core" and that the
Germans were entitled to "greater living space than in the case of
"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 declared. "The
question for Germany ran: where could she achieve the greatest gain at
the lowest cost?"
He pointed out two major obstacles; "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 [Lebensraum] problem could only be solved by means of
force," Hitler said, but "there remain still to be answered the
questions 'when' and 'how'..."
Hitler wanted to resolve the Lebensraum issue by 1943 to 1945 at the
very latest to guard against military obsolescence, the aging of the Nazi
leadership, and, "it was while the rest of the world was still preparing
its defenses that we were obliged to take the offensive."
Although Hitler's ultimate goal was to acquire Lebensraum in the East,
namely Russia, he focused the entire conference on his first objectives,
the seizure of Austria and Czechoslovakia to protect Germany's eastern
and southern flanks. Hitler outlined three strategies to achieve this,
each one designed to capitalize on the military and political weaknesses
of France and Britain.
In the first scenario, Hitler would wait until 1943 when rearmament
was complete and France and Britain would be heavily outgunned. In the
second, he would act sooner by keeping a close eye on France's internal
political problems, waiting for a chance to strike at Czechoslovakia in
the event that France was weakened by a major crisis such as a civil war.
In the third, he would strike as early as 1938 at both Austria and Czechoslovakia
if France got bogged down in a military conflict with some other country,
such as Germany's new ally, Fascist Italy.
Hitler's casual acceptance of the immense risks of starting a large-scale
war in Europe shocked those in attendance, especially Blomberg and Fritsch
who, according to Hossbach's notes, "repeatedly emphasized the necessity
that Britain and France must not appear in the roles of our enemies."
They were not objecting on any moral grounds to Hitler's war plans but
merely out of practical consideration. Germany, in their opinion, was far
from being ready for war, and even by 1943 would not be adequately armed.
Following the conference, an overwhelmed Neurath went home and suffered
a series of heart attacks. Blomberg and Fritsch, meanwhile, maintained
their steadfast opposition to Hitler's plans. Their reaction was completely
unacceptable to the Führer and he decided
they would both have to go. To dump the two generals, he would rely on
the expert services of his masters of treachery, Himmler and Heydrich.