Saturday, January 18, 2020

Hitler's Two Letters to Stalin

Hitler's Classic Deception and Misdirection

Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler.
During the period between the 18 December 1940 directive authorizing the invasion of the Soviet Union, code name Operation Barbarossa, and the actual invasion on 22 June 1941, Adolf Hitler sent Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin two letters. They are of great historical interest for a variety of reasons. Their contents are shown below.

The most important thing to know about these two letters is that they appear to be genuine. They were hidden in Soviet and Russian government archives for decades. However, they exist in official government files. Marshal Georgy Zhukov, in an interview conducted in 1965-66, recalled discussing the first of the two letters with Stalin in January 1941. So, they are not recent forgeries and there is a verification of their authenticity. However, the originals remain in restricted Russian files and are not independently verified.

The second most important thing to understand is that these letters is that, while containing a veneer of truth and believable on their face by Stalin, they constitute classic disinformation and deception. They are not truthful letters. They should not be taken at face value in the sense of showing what Hitler actually thought or intended to do.

Instead, the two letters are full of falsehoods, phony reasoning, and misdirection. That obviously was the intent behind them. Hitler wanted to mislead Stalin about his intentions. From the results, Hitler was successful (though some might dispute that and assume that Stalin was playing his own game).

These two letters are reproduced in Murphy, David E., What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2005 (hardcover, ISBN 0-300-10780-3); 2006 (paperback, ISBN 0-300-11981-X).

Adolf Hitler

Hitler's First Letter to Stalin

December 31, 1940

Dear Mr. Stalin,

I am using the occasion of sending New Year’s greetings and my wishes for success and prosperity to you and the people of Soviet Russia to discuss a series of questions that were raised in my conversations with Mr. Molotov and Mr. Dekanozov.

The struggle with England has entered a decisive phase, and I intend not later than the summer of the coming year to put an end to this rather drawn-out question by seizing and occupying the heart of the British Empire—the British Isles. I am aware of the difficulty of this operation but believe that it can be carried out, for I see no other way of ending this war.

As I wrote to you earlier, the approximately seventy divisions that I must keep in the Government General are undergoing reorganization and training in an area inaccessible to English aviation and intelligence. I understood from my discussions with Messrs. Molotov and Dekanozov that this has aroused in you understandable anxiety. Beginning in approximately March, these troops will be moved to the Channel and the western coast of Norway, and in their place, new units will be assembled for accelerated training. I wanted to warn you of this in advance.

In addition, I intend to use these troops to force the English out of Greece, and for this, it will be necessary to move them through Romania and Bulgaria. Those troops that will carry out the invasion of England from Norwegian territory will continue to utilize transit rights through Finland. Germany has no interests in Finland or Bulgaria, and as soon as we achieve our goals in this war, I will immediately withdraw my troops. . . . 

I especially want to warn you of the following. The agony of England is accompanied by feverish efforts to save it from its inevitable fate. For this purpose, they are fabricating all possible foolish rumors, the most important of which can be crudely divided into two categories. These are rumors of planned invasions by the USSR into Germany and by Germany against the USSR. I do not wish to dwell on the absurdity of such nonsense. However, on the basis of information in my possession, I predict that as our invasion of the [British] Isles draws closer, the intensity of such rumors will increase and fabricated documents will perhaps be added to them. 

I will be completely open to you. Some of these rumors are being circulated by appropriate German offices. The success of our invasion of the Isles depends very much on the achievement of tactical surprise. Therefore, it is useful to keep Churchill and his circles in ignorance of our precise plans.

A worsening of the relations between our countries to include armed conflict is the only way for the English to save themselves, and I assure you that they will continue efforts in this direction with their characteristic slyness and craftiness. . . .

For a final solution of what to do with this bankrupt English legacy, and also for the consolidation of the union of socialist countries and the establishment of new world order, I would like very much to meet personally with you. I have spoken about this with Messrs. Molotov and Dekanozov.

Unfortunately, as you will well understand, an exceptional workload prevents me from arranging our meeting until the smashing of England. Therefore, I propose to plan for this meeting at the end of June–beginning of July 1941 and would be happy if this meets with your agreement and understanding.

Sincerely yours, 

Adolf Hitler

Marshal Zhukov
Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov verified the existence of the 31 December 1940 letter from Adolf Hitler to Joseph Stalin.
Marshal Zhukov said that Stalin had told him in January 1941 that this letter from Hitler was in response to an earlier letter from Stalin (not yet disclosed) inquiring as to the reason for German troop transfers to Poland which seemed to be a hostile act directed at the USSR. This Hitler letter evidently was intended to allay those fears and explain their supposed purpose.

There are several things to note about this 31 December 1941 letter from Hitler to Stalin. For one, the "conversations with Mr. Molotov and Mr. Dekanozov" that he references took place in Berlin during early November 1940. Those discussions did not go well and no agreement was reached at them. The Germans made proposals about a "new world order" that would divide the world between the Axis powers (which at that point purportedly included the Soviet Union, though it was not a signatory to the actual Tripartite Pace). The Soviets responded with drastically different counterproposals. At the time of this letter, Stalin was still expecting a response to those counterproposals but did not receive one here.

Another interesting aspect is Hitler's assertion that he intended to invade "the British Isles." He had no such intent and already had suspended Operation Sea Lion, the projected invasion of England.

A third interesting aspect is Hitler's deliberate lie that he had sent "approximately seventy divisions" to Poland for "reorganization and training" and to keep them away from "English aviation and intelligence." While those reasons had a veneer of truthfulness, the real reason for the Germans' continuing troop transfers to the East was to prepare for Operation Barbarossa.

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin.
The most chilling aspect of this letter is that Hitler uses the phrase "final solution" regarding "what to do with this bankrupt English legacy." His reference to "a new world order" is exactly the phrase that he and Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop had used during their discussions with Molotov in November 1940. This was a subtle indication that Hitler was not changing those ideas despite the Soviet counterproposals which envisaged no such new world order. This could have served as a warning to Stalin, but evidently did not.

While Hitler likely did not write these letters himself, and they were either the product of German intelligence services or the Foreign Ministry, he certainly had to sign and approve them. So, they reflect the thoughts that Hitler wished to convey while he built up the Wehrmacht for Operation Barbarossa.

Rudolf Hess preparing for his 10 May 1941 flight
Rudolf Hess prepares for his flight to England on 10 May 1941.

Hitler's Second Letter to Stalin

Below is Hitler's second letter to Joseph Stalin.

May 14, 1941

Dear Mr. Stalin,

I am writing this letter at the moment of having finally concluded that it will be impossible to achieve lasting peace in Europe, not for us, not for future generations, without the final shattering of England and her destruction as a state. As you well know, I long ago made the decision to carry out a series of military measures to achieve this goal.

The closer the hour of a decisive battle, however, the larger the number of problems I face. For the mass of the German people, no war is popular, especially not a war against England, because the German people consider the English a fraternal people and war between them a tragic event. I will not conceal that I have felt the same way and have several times offered England humane peace terms, taking into consideration England’s military situation. However, insulting replies to my peace proposals and the continuing expansion by the English of the field of military operations with the obvious intention of drawing the entire world into war persuade me that there is no other way out of this situation except for an invasion of the Isles and the decisive destruction of that country.

English intelligence, however, has very cleverly begun to use the concept of ‘‘fraternal peoples’’ for its own purposes, applying it to its own propaganda, not without success.

Consequently, opposition to my decision to invade the Isles has drawn in many elements of German society, including individual members of the higher levels of state and military leadership. You are certainly aware that one of my deputies, Mr. Hess, in a fit of insanity, I suppose, flew to London, taking this unbelievable action, to the best of my knowledge, to awaken the English to common sense. Judging by the information in my possession, similar moods have struck several generals of my army, particularly those who have distinguished relatives in England descending from the same ancient, noble roots.

In this connection, a special warning is raised by the following circumstance. In order to organize troops for the invasion away from the eyes of the English opponent, and in connection with the recent operations in the Balkans, a large number of my troops, about eighty divisions, are located on the borders of the Soviet Union. This possibly gave rise to the rumors now circulating of a likely military conflict between us.

I assure you, on my honor as a chief of state that this is not the case.

From my side, I also react with understanding to the fact that you cannot completely ignore these rumors and have also deployed a sufficient number of your troops on the border. 

In this situation I cannot completely exclude the possibility of an accidental outbreak of armed conflict, which given the conditions created by such a concentration of troops might take on very large dimensions, making it difficult if not impossible to determine what caused it in the first place.

I want to be absolutely candid with you.

I fear that some of my generals might deliberately embark on such a conflict in order to save England from its fate and spoil my plans.

It is a question of no more than a month.

By approximately June 15–20 I plan to begin a massive transfer of troops to the west from your borders.

In connection with this, I ask you, as persuasively as possible, not to give in to any provocations that might emanate from those of my generals who might have forgotten their duty. And, it goes without saying, try not to give them any cause. If it becomes impossible to avoid provocation by some of my generals, I ask you to show restraint, to not respond but to advise me immediately of what has happened through the channel known to you. Only in this way can we attain our mutual goals, on which, it seems to me, we are clearly in agreement.

I thank you for having agreed with me on the question known to you and I ask you to forgive me for the method I have chosen for delivering this letter to you as quickly as possible.

I continue to hope for our meeting in July.

Sincerely yours, 

Adolf Hitler

Wreckage of the Rudolf Hess plane
British soldiers examine the wreckage of the plane flown by Rudolf Hess on 10 May 1941.
This second letter by Hitler to Stalin appears in many ways to be a rehash of the first. Once again, Hitler vows to invade the British Isles. However, the tone has changed. Rather than simply assert that the British must be crushed, Hitler gives a list of reasons.

These reasons include British rejection of Hitler's peace offers (which already had been done prior to the first letter), heightened British military resistance (the war in North Africa was proving more difficult than anticipated), and the looming presence of the United States ("the obvious intention of drawing the entire world into war.").

In addition, Hitler crafts an entire phony argument about supposed internal opposition to an invasion of England. This was the result of "English intelligence" that had "drawn in many elements of German society." Hitler would have known that Stalin understood internal opposition and appears to have been trying to create a bond with the Soviet leader.

Hitler tries to turn the recent flight by Rudolf Hess to England into a positive effort to "awaken the English to common sense." The Hess flight, in fact, likely was the reason for this letter. There were strong suspicions at the time that Hess had embarked on an official mission. Stalin was always suspicious about the "Imperialist powers," and Hitler perhaps figured that he had better nip any suspicions that Stalin had about the Hess flight in the bud.

Hitler is very crafty when he suggests that there might be an "accidental outbreak of armed conflict" between the Reich and the Soviet Union. This might delay Stalin's reaction to the actual invasion. The date that Hitler gives of "June 15-20" for the supposed troop transfers west for the invasion of England suggests that, by the date of this letter, Hitler had a very good idea that Operation Barbarossa would commence around that time.

The final line, "I continue to hope for our meeting in July," probably provoked quite a bit of laughter in the Berlin Chancellery. Hitler no doubt did wish to see Stalin in July - imprisoned in a steel cage.


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