The Hossbach Memorandum was the summary of a meeting in Berlin on 5 November 1937 between German dictator Adolf Hitler and his military and foreign policy leadership in which Hitler's future expansionist policies were outlined. The meeting marked a turning point in Hitler's foreign policies, which then began to radicalize.
According to the memorandum, Hitler did not want war in 1939 with Britain and France. He wanted small wars of plunder to help support Germany's struggling economy. It was named for the keeper of the minutes of the meeting, Hitler's military adjutant, Colonel Friedrich Hossbach. Also attending the meeting were the Reich Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath; the Reich War Minister, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg; the Army Commander, General Werner von Fritsch; the Kriegsmarine Commander, Admiral Erich Raeder; and the Luftwaffe Commander, Hermann Göring.
The conference of 5 November 1937 had been called in response to complaints from Admiral Raeder that the navy (Kriegsmarine) was receiving insufficient allocations of steel and other raw materials and that its entire building programme was thus in danger of collapse. Neither the air force (Luftwaffe) nor the army (Heer) wanted to see any reductions of their steel allocations. As the conference had been called in response to resolve the dispute, Hitler took the opportunity to provide a summary of his assessment of foreign policy.
He stated that if he died, the contents of the conference were to be regarded as his "political testament". In Hitler's view, the German economy had reached such a state of crisis that the only way of stopping a drastic fall in living standards in Germany was to embark on a policy of aggression sooner, rather than later, to provide sufficient Lebensraum by seizing Austria and Czechoslovakia. Moreover, Hitler announced that it was imperative to act at some time within the next five or six years before "two hate-inspired antagonists", Britain and France, closed the gap in the arms race in which, Hitler noted, Germany was already falling behind.
A striking change in the Hossbach Memorandum is Hitler's new evaluation of Britain: from a prospective ally in 1928 in the Zweites Buch to a "hate-inspired antagonist" in 1937 that was unwilling and unable to accept a strong Germany. The change marked a total reversal of Hitler's view of Britain.
German historian Klaus Hildebrand has argued that the memorandum marked the beginning of an "ambivalent course" towards Britain. Likewise, Andreas Hillgruber contended that Hitler was embarking on expansion "without Britain": preferably "with Britain" but, if necessary, "against Britain".
The first part of the document minuted Hitler's wish that Germany should strive for autarky, as he reasoned that reliance on others makes a state weak. That has been labelled by some historians as a way of preparing Germany for conflict by ensuring that it was not economically reliant on states with which it could soon be at war. The memorandum's suggestion that certain types of autarky were not possible can thus be considered to be reasons for regarding the war as something of a necessity.
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:
- In the field of raw materials only limited, not total, autarky.
- In regard to coal, so far as it could be considered as a source of raw materials, autarky was possible;
- In regard to 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 or tin – this was not the case.
- Synthetic textile requirements can be met from home resources to the limit of timber supplies. A permanent solution impossible.
- Edible fats — possible.
- In the field of food the question of autarky 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 ensure 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 autarky was untenable in regard both to food and to the economy as a whole.
Indeed, the economic arguments appear to all but guarantee a war of fears for food supplies being reliant upon foreign trade in a world that was dominated by British-policed sea trade lanes:
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.
The second part of the document detailed three 'contingencies' that Hitler would take if certain situations prevailed in Europe, purportedly to ensure the security of the Reich. Beyond that, Hitler claimed that two "hate-inspired antagonists" (Britain and France) were blocking German foreign policy goals at every turn and that sometime in the next five years or so, Germany would have to achieve autarky by seizing Eastern Europe to prepare for a possible war with the British and the French.
After the conference, three of the attendees (Blomberg, Fritsch and Neurath) all argued that the foreign policy Hitler had outlined was too risky, as Germany needed more time to rearm. Also, they stated that the 'contingencies' that Hitler described as the prerequisite for war were too unlikely to occur such as the apparent certainty expressed in the document of the Spanish Civil War leading to a Franco-Italian war in the Mediterranean or that France was on the verge of civil war. Moreover, it was argued that any German aggression in Eastern Europe was bound to trigger a war with France because of the French alliance system in Eastern Europe, the so-called cordon sanitaire, and if that a Franco-German war broke out, Britain was almost certain to intervene to prevent France's defeat. Thus, any German attack on the states of Eastern Europe such as Czechoslovakia was likely to lead to war with the British and the French before Germany was fully rearmed and ready for war with the other great powers. As such, Fritsch, Blomberg and Neurath advised Hitler to wait until Germany had more time to rearm before pursuing a high-risk strategy of pursuing localized wars that was likely to trigger a general war before Germany was ready for such a war. All of those present at the conference had no moral objections to Hitler's strategy, but were divided on timing only. By February 1938, Neurath, Fritsch and Blomberg had been removed from their positions. Some historians, such as Sir John Wheeler-Bennett and William L. Shirer, believed that Blomberg, Fritsch and Neurath were removed because of their opposition to the plans expressed in the Hossbach memorandum.
The accuracy of the memorandum has been questioned, as the minutes were drawn up five days after the event by Hossbach from notes that he took at the meeting and also from memory. Also, Hitler did not review the minutes of the meeting; instead he insisted, as he commonly did, that he was too busy to bother with such small details. The British historian A. J. P. Taylor contended that the manuscript that was used by the prosecution in the Nuremberg Trials appears to be a shortened version of the original, as it had passed through the US Army before the trial. Taylor drew attention to one thing that the memorandum can be used to prove: "Goering, Raeder and Neurath had sat by and approved of Hitler's aggressive plans." However, that did not necessarily mean that Hitler laid down his plans for the domination of Europe, as there was no active decision to start a war made in the memorandum, only a decision about when war would be practical. However, Hitler mentioned his wish for increased armaments.
Taylor attempted to discredit the document by using the fact that the future annexations described in the 'contingencies' were unlike those that occurred in 1939. However, opposing historians, such as Taylor's archrival Hugh Trevor-Roper, have pointed out that the memorandum still demonstrated an intention for adding Austria, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania and Poland to the Reich. Taylor also stipulated that the meeting was most likely a piece of internal politics, and he pointed out that Hitler could have been trying to encourage the gathering's members to put pressure on Reich Minister of Economics and President of the Reichsbank, Hjalmar Schacht, to release more funding for rearmament. In fact, Schacht soon resigned in protest at the pre-eminence of rearmament in Nazi economics. Contending historians have also pointed out that rearmament is an integral part of a preparation for conflict. In response, Taylor argued that Hitler's policy was a bluff (he wished to rearm Germany to frighten and intimidate other states) to allow him to achieve his foreign policy goals without going to war.
In addition, Taylor argued that most of the 'contingencies' that Hitler listed as the prerequisite for war, such as an outbreak of civil war in France or the Spanish Civil War that led to a war between Italy and France in the Mediterranean, did not occur. Trevor-Roper countered that criticism by arguing that Hitler expressed an intention to go to war sooner rather than later and that it was Hitler's intentions in foreign policy in late 1937, as opposed to his precise plans later in history, that really mattered.
Intentionalist and structuralist argumentsEdit
It is often used by intentionalist historians such as Gerhard Weinberg, Andreas Hillgruber and Richard Overy to prove that Hitler planned to start a general European war, which became the Second World War, as part of a longtime master plan. However, functionalist historians such as Timothy Mason, Hans Mommsen and Ian Kershaw argue that the document shows no such plans but the memorandum was an improvised ad hoc response by Hitler to the growing crisis in the German economy in the late 1930s.
- Aigner, Dietrich. "Hitler's Ultimate Aims". H. W. Koch, ed. Aspects of the Third Reich. London: Macmillan Press, 1985, p. 264
- Messerschmidt, Manfred, "Foreign Policy and Preparation for War", Germany and the Second World War pp. 636–637; Carr, William, Arms, Autarchy and Aggression, pp. 73–78
- Robertson, E. M. Hitler's Pre-War Policy and Military Plans. p. 106
- Hildebrand, Klaus. The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich. p. 42.
- Hillgruber, Andreas. "England's Place In Hitler's Plans for World Dominion". Journal of Contemporary History, Volume 9, 1974. pp. 5–22.
- Hossbach Memorandum Berlin, 10 November 1937 Archived 28 July 2020 at the Wayback Machine
- Weinberg, Gerhard. The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Starting World War II. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1980, pp. 39–40
- Weinberg, Gerhard. The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Starting World War II. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1980, pp. 39–40.
- Overy, Richard. "Misjudging Hitler: A. J. P. Taylor and the Third Reich", 1999.
- Taylor, A. J. P. The Origins of the Second World War, Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1965.
- Trevor-Roper, Hugh "A. J. P. Taylor, Hitler and the War", Encounter, Volume 17, July 1961.