London Letter

Germany’s Diplomats

Beverley Baxter May 15 1936
London Letter

Germany’s Diplomats

Beverley Baxter May 15 1936

Germany’s Diplomats

London Letter

Beverley Baxter

I AM WRITING this during the European crisis. When you read it the European crisis will still be on. That particular crisis, like the poor, is always with us. Back home in Canada you have great blizzards of smw in the winter that block the streets and bury your motor cars until they look like frosted Christmas cakes. Orer here we have no snow except on postcards, but we have blizzards that blow from Central Europe which are far more devastating than anything nature sends to the people of the Dominion of Canada.

For the last fortnight it seems that all our activities have been connected with Germany. The House of Commons has been transformed into a department of foreign affairs. The only time we can spare for the Empire is a written question and an oral answer, and then back to the endless and heartbreaking grind of the European crisis.

Yet there is a fascination as well as a discouragement in being at the centre of things during a period like this. To understand events one must understand personalities. You who live across the seas are just as well informed as we are in England, so fqr as you can be informed by reading well-served newspapers. The difference is that in London we are not only in contact with events but also in contact

with that human element which in private conversation does so much to explain the news behind the news.

Tragic German Jews

F)R EXAMPLE, ten days ago Theodor Wolff, the famous editor of the Berliner Tageblatt called on me. He is an old man, and his stooped shoulders portray the hardness of his life in the old days and the discouragement which is now his reward. The years before 1914 he fought for a better understanding between France and Germany. Ten days before the war of 1914 broke out, BethmannHollweg, the German Chancellor, sent for him and asked

his advice. Herr Wolff told the Chancellor that the war would ruin Germany, that she would lose everything she had gained.

“The English will not really be a factor; they will not be ready,” said the Chancellor.

Wolff shook his head. “Once John Bull goes into a war,” he said, “even if the whole world goes up in flames, England will survive and be victorious.”

When the war was over, Herr Wolff took up the cause of Franco-German friendship once more. Then came the Hitler régime. Herr Wolff was on holiday in Bavaria when the Reichstag was burned. He hurried back to Berlin, but was met at the station by some of his friends. “There is a squad of Brown Shirts,” they said, “at your house waiting to arrest you.”

His friends smuggled him out of the country because he was a Jew and because he had served Germany for twentynine years on his newspaper. Now he is the wandering Jew once more, without a home, without a country.

Two days before the visit of Theodor Wolff, a friend of mine, Herman Fellner, dropped into my office to ask me to lunch with him. Unfortunately I had another engagement and so we planned a luncheon during the following week. Fellner was a film director, a jolly chap, fat, Jewish, intelligent and an exile from Germany. He gave a dinner party that night at his house, and in the morning they found him dead. He had hanged himself in his dressing room. It would appear the Jew has not changed since Shakespeare

wrote, “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?” Is it any wonder that when Hitler’s representatives arrive to discuss the question of peace or war in Europe, it is difficult for us to receive them as representatives of a normal State?

We know that every nation is entitled to its own form of government, but when that government develops a policy of inhumanity toward a racial minority within its frontiers, then the nature of that administration becomes the concern of the whole world.

What kind of men are they, therefore, who have come from Berlin to put the case of Hitler and his régime? I shall encroach a little upon the laws of hospitality and

take you with me to a private luncheon at Lord Winterton’s. There are about ten of us present, Lord Winterton and I being the only Members of Parliament. The others are people of influence, but it is not for me to disclose their identity. The purpose of the luncheon is for us to meet Dr. Dieckhoff, the permanent head of the German Foreign Office. He has accompanied Herr von Ribbentrop.

You would be charmed with Dr. Dieckhoff. He is a large man, but not fat. When he was a young fellow he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and the athletic training of those days has stood him in good stead. 1 lis stomach muscles still hold. He has a large, round face, a Shakespearean brow, and fair hair that sits upon his brow like a crown. With some men a large and pointed nose denotes domination. Curiously enough it is the smallness of Dr. Dieckhoff’s nose set in the largeness of his face that gives him the suggestion of power. He speaks English perfectly and with a charming humor. In the course of his career he has held appointments at the German Embassy at Washington, and the German Embassy at London. He knows the Englishman’s habits, tempo of thoughts and his reactions. So we talked with a frankness which would astonish those who believe that diplomats are always guarded. I cannot repeat that conversation without asking the permission of Lord Winterton and Dr. Dieckhoff, therefore I must be content only to describe this powerful and significant figure.

For every accusation he has a pleasant and logical answer. For every doubt he has an assurance. His point at all times is that Germany has special internal troubles which are not apparent to the outside world. It is impossible not to like him. -\ week before. I had written in the Sunday Times a sketch of Herr Hitler which resulted in that newspaper being banned from Germany. Dr. Dieckhoff turns to me and says: “You must come on your holiday this summer to Germany.” And his voice suggests a happy, peaceful, pleasant country where for a little time I shall forget the aires and worries of life in England. In other words. German propaganda is in the hands of really capable men for the first time, and the purpose of German propaganda is to create good feeling between England and Germany. If they succeed in that—then what will fallow?

Now let us look on another luncheon two or three days later. This time the guest of honor was the late Herr von Hoesch, the German Ambassador. Here again Hitler had chosen wisely. The Ambassador was a distinguished man, thin, erect, the perfect military type. His manners were charming. He was gracious without affectation. The words that came most easily to his lips were Germany’s desire for peace and for an end of all international misunderstandings. Germany will miss his services.

Von Ribbentrop Worked in Canada

AT THE SAME luncheon was Prince Bismarck, grandson of the Iron Chancellor. Bismarck has been attached to the German Embassy in London so long that he seems like one of us. I have met him on many occasions not only in London but at Frinton-on-Sea, where both of us have summer houses. I like Bismarck. He is not quite so suave as Dieckhoff, but he is intelligent and earnest. His wife, the daughter of a Swedish noble family, is perhaps the most beautiful woman in Europe. I do not know how many children the Bismarcks have, but I should think it must be five. After each accouchement, Princess Bismarck emerges more radiant and lovely than ever.

At a dinner party not long ago an Englishman said to her what all of us were feeling —it must be understood that the dinner had been an excellent one—that if Hitler would only recall her husband and put her in charge of German propaganda we would have an alliance with Germany in tw'enty-four hours. Bismarck is a realist. He, oddly enough, does not conform to any of the recognized German types in appearance. When he came to this country first he was inclined to be pugnacious and argumentative, but now he is an accomplished diplomat and makes many friends. His position in history is, of course, interesting in itself. The Germany of today and the Europe of today were made by the hand of his grandfather. It is one of the ironies of heredity that it is left to the grandson to be one of those struggling to avert the disaster which has come about because of his grandfather’s policy of blood and iron.

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Finally there is Herr von Ribbentrop, Ambassador in Chief over all other German Ambassadors. He is related to Dr. Dieckhoff by marriage. The older school of diplomacy in Germany does not like him. They claim he is an amateur. Back in 1928, when Hitler was insecure, this amiable and attractive young man supported Hitler’s cause. Hitler has many vices, but apparently ingratitude is not one. Von Ribbentrop is a youngish, middle-aged man, with a vivacious smile and natural charm. He was a wine merchant on a large scale and he married the daughter of Germany’s champagne king. One wonders if it is known to the readers of Maclean’s that he lived in Canada for four years previous to 1914, working for a living and acquiring a knowledge of the British Empire. He was in Canada when war broke out but managed to get away and reach Germany, where he served as a cavalry officer. Some day when I get a chance I must get von Ribbentrop to tell me his impressions of Canada in those days. They would make interesting reading.

The German Riddle

SO TO THE House of Commons, where Anthony Eden stands up and without notes makes a magnificent speech urging France to be less autocratic and urging Germany to make a gesture that will create some sense of confidence in a world that is full of distrust.

It is so difficult to sort one’s impressions. Not long ago I was in Germany and saw the dreadful spectacle of a nation at war although the guns were silent. I heard the sound of marching feet in the early morning and I saw the harassed and despairing faces of men living under an unseen terror. Which picture is right? Am I to believe the cultured accents of Dieckhoff, Bismarck, von Hoesch, or am 1 to believe the evidence of my own eyes? Does Germany intend peace or does she only want ten more years to prepare?

There is a German joke. They say that in 1914 the politicians of Berlin declared that the situation was serious but not hopeless. In Vienna the politicians said the situation was hopeless but not serious. At this time I feel like an Austrian. Every instinct, every evidence of the mind tells me that nothing can prevent Germany from going to war when lier threats of blackmail have ceased to secure for her what she wants. It might be better for our children if at this hour France, Britain and Russia should turn on Germany and crush her once more.

But is it possible that we are misjudging that nation? Are Herr von Ribbentrop, Dr. Dieckhoff and Prince Bismarck skilful types to lure us into a false sense of security, or are they the prophets of a new and enlightened Germany? I wish I could believe so. Perhaps you, reading this 3,(XX) miles from the centre of danger, may be able to see the truth more clearly than we who are at the heart of things.

Every v/ay one looks at the European situation, it is hopeless. But is it serious?