Well, in a way he tried to do both of those things, but failed miserably. Birger Dahlerus came as close as any man to preventing World War II, but it was an impossible task. Very close indeed. Or at least that is what he thought, though the reality may have been quite different. In any event, Birger Dahlerus was the first man in history to practice shuttle diplomacy, beating Henry Kissinger by over thirty years. Looking at his activities helps to put all the official diplomatic shouting on the eve of World War II in context.
First things first. The Nuremberg tribunal knew all about Birger Dahlerus. It said in its judgment:
Parallel with these negotiations were the unsuccessful attempts made by Goering to effect the isolation of Poland by persuading Great Britain not to stand by her pledged word, through the services of one Birger Dahlerus, a Swede. Dahlerus, who was called as a witness by Goering, had a considerable knowledge of England and of things English, and in July, 1939, was anxious to bring about a better understanding between England and Germany, in the hope of preventing a war between the two countries. He got into contact with Goering as well as with official circles in London, and during the latter part of August, Goering used him as an unofficial intermediary to try and deter the British Government from their opposition to Germany's intentions towards Poland. Dahlerus, of course, had no knowledge at the time of the decision which Hitler had secretly announced on the 22nd August, nor of the German military directives for the attack on Poland which were already in existence. As he admitted in his evidence, it was not until the 26th September, after the conquest of Poland was virtually complete, that he first realised that Goering's aim all along had been to get Great Britain's consent to Germany's seizure of Poland.Johan Birger Essen Dahlerus (February 6, 1891–March 8, 1957) was born in Stockholm and became a businessman. Sweden officially was neutral during World War I and World War II, though it tended (under intense pressure both times) to favor the Central Powers in the first war and the Allies in the second (while Sweden maintained business contacts with Germany because doing otherwise would have been interpreted as an act of war, it passed along immensely valuable intelligence to the Allies that, among many other things, helped the British to sink the Bismarck. Hitler often talked of invading Sweden). None of this political stuff interfered too much with Dahlerus' business, and he developed contacts throughout Europe, particularly in England and Germany.
|Goering's private yacht, Carin II|
|British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.|
|The Bredstedt town hall.|
A. HoldenThe group talked for several hours, then broke for lunch. Nothing was accomplished, but, according to testimony at the Nuremberg trials, the businessmen emphasizing that England would honor its treaty obligations to Poland and go to war if provoked. If Goering made any kind of offers, they have not been revealed, but his idea most likely was to simply get the ball rolling in talking with Britain.
Stanley Rawson (John Brown & Company)
Sir Robert Renwick
|Ribbentrop signs the non-aggression pact in Moscow, 23 August 1939.|
|Hitler's Berghof in Berchtesgaden.|
|The Royal Navy mobilized on 24 August 1939.|
"...The measures that we have taken up to now are of a precautionary and defensive character, and to give effect to our determination to put this country in a state of preparedness to meet any emergency, but I wish emphatically to repudiate any suggestion, if such a suggestion should be made, that these measures imply an act of menace. Nothing that we have done or that we propose to do menaces the legitimate interests of Germany. It is not an act of menace to prepare to help friends to defend themselves against force. If neighbors wishing to live together peacefully in friendly relations find that one of them is contemplating apparently an aggressive act of force against another of them, and is making open preparations for action, it is not a menace for the others to announce their intention of aiding the one who is the subject of this threat..."Royal Assent was given on the same day and the Royal Navy is ordered to war stations. Soon afterward a general mobilization began. Later that day, Goering met with the Polish ambassador and told him that the problem was Poland's Agreement of Mutual Assistance with the United Kingdom, which provided:
"...Should one of the Contracting Parties become engaged in hostilities with a European Power in consequence of aggression by the latter against that Contracting Party, the other Contracting Party will at once give the Contracting Party engaged in hostilities all the support and assistance in its power..."U.S. President Roosevelt also got involved, sending a telegram to Hitler:
"...The people of the United States are as one in their opposition to policies of military conquest and domination. They are as one in rejecting the thesis that any ruler, or any people, possess the right (to) achieve their ends or objectives through the taking of action which will plunge countless millions of people into war and which will bring distress and suffering to every nation of the world, belligerent and neutral, when such ends and objectives, so far as they are just and reasonable, can be satisfied through processes of peaceful negotiation or by resort to judicial arbitration. I appeal to you in the name of the people of the United States, and I believe in the name of peace-loving men and women everywhere, to agree to the solution of the controversies existing between your Government and that of Poland..."Goering kept trying to wheel and deal. Late that night, he called Dahlerus and emphasized the significance of the Stalin pact, which had been signed the night before. He asked Dahlerus to fly to London to talk to Chamberlain about it.
"...At 8 o'clock in the evening I tried to reach him on the telephone, but only after I had obtained help from the Foreign Office was I able to establish the connection. Goering revealed to me then that the situation had become extremely serious and asked me to do everything in my power to arrange a conference between representatives of England and Germany..."Hitler, meanwhile, suggested directly to the British ambassador, Sir Nevile Henderson, that if the British wanted to stay on his good side they would simply conduct a "phony war." He stated bluntly that "Poland's provocations have become intolerable." Of course, Poland wasn't doing anything. Hitler then ordered Case White, the invasion of Poland, the begin at dawn on August 26, 1939. He immediately shut down all international phone lines and air flights.
|Ribbentrop and Molotov, Berlin 1940.|
"...I have not kept you informed in detail, Duce, since I did not have an idea of the possible extent of these (German-Russian) conversations, or any assurance of the possibility of their success. The readiness on the part of the Kremlin to arrive at a reorientation of its relations with Germany, which became apparent after the departure of Litvinov, has become ever stronger in the last few weeks and has made it possible for me, after successful preparation, to send my Foreign Minister to Moscow for the conclusion of a treaty which is the most extensive non-aggression pact in existence and whose text will be made public. The pact is unconditional and includes also the obligation for consultation about all questions affecting Russia and Germany. I may tell you, Duce, that through these arrangements the favorable attitude of Russia in case of any conflict is assured, and that the possibility of the entry of Rumania into such a conflict no longer exists..."Dahlerus returned from London with a message from the British foreign office, which did not contain anything new, but Goering rushed over with it to see Hitler. After talking it over, Hitler himself called in Dahlerus after midnight (Hitler always kept late hours) and explicitly offered an alliance with England on the sole condition that England would permit him to have the land corridor to Danzig. Dahlerus immediately flew back to London with the offer. Dahlerus retuned twenty-four hours later with another British foreign office note repeating the determination to stand by Poland but indicating a willingness to talk about the situation. Dahlerus called London at 2 a.m. to say that Hitler wanted to do a deal.
The British note which caused such a stir said in part:
"...A just settlement of these questions between Germany and Poland may open the way to world peace. Failure to reach it would ruin the hopes of better understanding between Germany and Great Britain, would bring the two countries into conflict, and might well plunge the whole world into war. Such an outcome would be a calamity without parallel in history."Dahlerus later testified:
"...It was obvious that by that time the British Government had become highly mistrustful, and rather inclined to assume that whatever efforts they might make nothing would now prevent Hitler from declaring war on Poland. The British Government had made the greatest effort. They had expressed the wish through their ambassador in Warsaw that the Polish Government should exert the greatest effort to avoid any border incidents. They explained to me at the same time that it was hardly fair to expect the Polish Government to send delegates to Berlin to negotiate, when it was known what experience other countries had had in in past years..."
|Winston Churchill speaks to the House of Commons.|
|Danzig in 1939.|
|Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes.|
I was in my hotel, late in the evening, about 10:30. Forbes [Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes, Counselor of the British Embassy] called me up and said he had to see me at once. He came to my hotel and said that Henderson and Hitler had had a meeting on Tuesday evening which had taken a very unsatisfactory course. They had parted after a big quarrel. He asked me what I could suggest under these circumstances. During our conversation I was called on the phone by Goering, and he asked me to come to his house immediately. He told me the same story and seemed very upset at the development. He showed me the German reply to the British note and went through it point by point. He tried to explain to me the reasons for the contents of this note. Finally he told me I should go back to London again immediately and make every effort to explain this unfortunate incident to the British Government. He concluded then by saying that Hitler was busy, and that he was working out a proposal for Poland which should probably be ready the next day..."Dahlerus spent the day in London acting as an intermediary. He called Goering several times on 30 August to give indications of London's concerns. When Dahlerus naïvely asked why a Polish ambassador with authority to negotiate had to show up in Berlin, Goering lost his patience:
"Because that is where the Reich Chancellor, Herr Hitler, has his residence."The British wouldn't budge, and if anything were hardening their stance, so Dahlerus flew back to Berlin and boarded Goering's private train Asia at 11 p.m. Meanwhile, Ribbentrop supposedly was giving the 16 points to Ambassador Henderson, but Ribbentrop was clueless and simply read through the points in German without even giving them to Henderson. Goering immediately gave a copy to Dahlerus to give to Henderson, which he did. Henderson dutifully telephoned the Polish Ambassador Józef Lipski just past midnight, early on 31 August 1939, and suggested that they send someone over to talk terms.
|Polish Marshal Smigly-Rydz.|
"I suggested that he (Lipski) recommend to his government an interview between Marshal Smigly-Rydz and Goering. I felt obliged to add that I could not conceive of the success of any negotiations if they were conducted by Ribbentrop."
|British Ambassador Sir Nevile Henderson, who was dying of cancer.|
"...His Majesty's Government repeat that they reciprocate the German Government's desire for improved relations, but it will be recognized that they could not sacrifice the interests of other friends in order to obtain that improvement. They fully understand that the German Government cannot sacrifice Germany's vital interests, but the Polish Government are in the same position and His Majesty's Government believe that the vital interests of the two countries are not incompatible..."All of this was a Byzantine attempt by Goering and Hitler to peel the British off from supporting Poland. They heartily wished for the Poles to ignore the 16 Points, which in fact the Poles did. Their hope was that the British would see this as the Poles being intransigent, thus lessening the British resolve to go to war with Poland.
|Polish ambassador Josef Lipski speaking at a Party rally, Nürnberg, Germany, 10 Sep 1938; note Himmler, Ribbentrop, Henderson, and Goebbels.|
|The Gleiwitz radio tower and the German in charge of that operation.|
"I have met with von Ribbentrop. I have obeyed instructions received and told him that I was not empowered to negotiate. Mr. von Ribbentrop repeated that he believed I had such powers. He told me that he would report my visit to the Chancellor."Goering later recalled at Nuremberg:
"...the British Government was informed what demands Germany would make on Poland. This proposal was not entirely understood, and was then unofficially -- but de facto -- made known not only to the British Government but also, to the Polish Ambassador, exactly and precisely, in the unofficial way that Dahlerus has described. It came to naught because the Polish Government did not agree to discuss this proposal. First there was a prolongation for a plenipotentiary to be appointed -- I believe until the 30th or the 31st; but nevertheless we waited even longer for a plenipotentiary. On the intimation that the Polish Ambassador might be this plenipotentiary, circumstances permitting, we waited for a conference with him; when he declared that he was not authorized to accept any terms, the Fuehrer decided on invasion the next day..."With nothing happening, Hitler did not change his orders. He issued a Directive for the conduct of the war:
- Now that all the political possibilities of disposing by peaceful means of a situation which is intolerable for Germany are exhausted, I have determined on a solution by force.
- The attack on Poland is to be carried out. Date of attack: September 1, 1939. Time of attack: 4:45 AM.
|The German battleship Schleswig-Holstein firing on Polish targets.|
|Hitler declares war on Poland on the morning of 1 September 1939.|
|Goering with staff officers in front of his private train (Sonderzug).|
|Whitehall in London.|
|The Germans invasion of Norway in 1940.|
|Hermann Goering, left, in the dock at Nuremberg.|