Hitler Looks Eastward

Two years before Hitler invaded Poland, an Atlantic author predicted the Reich’s expansion and how it would affect the various nations of Eastern Europe.
More

I

'To DAY Germany belongs to us; tomorrow the whole world!' Nazi Storm Troopers parading along Danzig's ancient cobbled streets sing out National Socialism's challenge to the nations across the 'bleeding frontiers' of the Third Reich. The echoes of this marching song reverberate in Bohemia, in Memelland, in Upper Silesia, in Transylvania. They inspire irredentist ambitions among the German minorities which dot Central Europe. Their implications cause Czechs, Lithuanians, and Poles to take counter measures against the threat of the new Drang nach Osten which Adolf Hitler and his propaganda and military machines have set in motion.

The Führer's promises of new lands, vast natural resources, and employment for everybody are calculated to stir the imagination of the hard pressed German people. The bait of the Urals' minerals, the Ukraine's grain, and Siberia's forests makes the citizens of the Reich willing to live up to the war cry, 'Cannon instead of butter,' to endure the dearth of fats and pork, and the scarcity of eggs. It is not so painful to tighten the belt of hunger another notch this year, when Nazi propaganda assures you that in the future you will 'swim in plenty.' Has not the Führer himself used those very words? The German press, the radio, and countless speeches delivered in factories, schools, and other places where people assemble, point to territorial expansion as the Reich's way out of internal difficulties. 'Colonies to absorb our surplus population and provide us with the raw materials we lack will solve our economic and social problems,' a Nazi official in Königsberg told me last June. By the term 'colonies' National Socialists do not necessarily mean overseas possessions. In the opinion of many they have in mind the acquisition of Polish, Lithuanian, Czechoslovak, or Russian territory.

There is little doubt that Germans are looking to the East and South for opportunities that are denied them at home. They remember with regret the vast territory in eastern Europe held by their armies at the beginning of 1918, an empire that stretched from the Gulf of Riga to the Black Sea and contained the raw materials and resources of Poland, Galicia, the Ukraine, much of Rumania, all of Lithuania, and part of Latvia. Looking back through the nostalgic vista of almost two decades, German strategists believe that the German army won the war in the East, then lost it through the mistake of Ludendorff's costly offensives in the West. That is why Alfred Rosenberg and other Nazi leaders who are advocating the new push to the East preach that the Reich must take a defensive position on the Rhine, and an offensive position on the Niemen, the Danube, the Vistula.

The remilitarization of the Rhineland last March was part of the Reich's new policy of Eastern orientation. It was perhaps the most important single event since the Armistice, for it changed the European political and military situation overnight. By this coup de main, Hitler placed his 'symbolic' battalions in a position where they could protect his back from attack by France, so that he might devote the major portion of his offensive energies to expansion toward the East and South. Every month lessens the likelihood that the French will attempt to invade the Reich to aid any small nation in Central Europe attacked by Germany. Because of the parallel lines of the French and German fortifications along their common frontier, it is doubtful if either neighbor could penetrate the territory of the other by direct invasion. This situation works to the advantage of Hitler's Eastern ambitions. But it by no means forecasts perpetual peace along the vineyard-covered slopes of the Rhine.

And what of the little nations that lie in the path of these Eastern ambitions? The startling growth of the Nazi military machine, the destructive course French internal strife, the League of Nations' reverse over the Ethiopian affair, and the bloody course of events in Spain have all combined to frighten some of them. States like Rumania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Greece are afraid of being caught on the losing side. The realization that a lost war could mean the end of their national existence has spurred certain of the minor nations in the East to try to disentangle themselves from the French alignment, as Belgium appears to be doing in the West, and to make peace with the German colossus. Every mistake on the part of the Quni d'Orsay, every defeat suffered by Geneva, increases the desire among the lesser powers to come to term with Hitler.

The strength of the Reich's defensive position lies in the fact that it is screened on the East by Poland and the Baltic States. From this position the Nazis can exert pressure against their small neighbors, the little buffer states which are isolated from France and the Soviet, their possible protectors. The sensational challenge to Moscow delivered in September by Hitler against the theatrical background of the Nurnberg Congress was heard from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Aegean. His words aroused hopes or fears, as the case might be, among the peoples along the Danube from the Black Forest to the Black Sea; they penetrated the Near East. They were followed by anti-Semitic riots in Rumania, and by political reorientations in the Balkans.

When Herr Hitler was named Chancellor by President von Hindenburg, the Nazis already had a smoothly functioning propaganda organization. During the previous decade, when their struggle for power was concentrated on the Reich itself, they had been able to pay only limited attention to neighboring states. But, once in control of the German government, the National Socialists immediately started a powerful propaganda offensive to enlist the aid of the Teutonic minorities in building in the heart of the Continent a great empire that would include all European members of the German race. The triumphant swastika would wave over areas remote from the Fatherland. A victorious Fascist Internationale extending from Burgos to Tokio would leave Geneva nothing but the late meeting place of a defunct debating society.

II

Born in Austria, the Reichsführer is inspired both by sentimental motives and by reasons of Realpolitik to make his native land part of a great German empire. That his earlier violent tactics actually harmed his cause in Austria seems at last to have made an impression on him. It may be a convincing exhibition of Schrecklichkeit to send patrons of a Viennese cinema gasping into the open air to escape the fumes of a stench bomb, but such Nazi rowdyism is a dubious means of convincing the victims that National Socialism has the key to Utopia.

Probably the crown of post war political folly goes to the German Nazis who put their stamp of approval on the murder of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in Vienna, in July 1934. Nothing could have hurt the Nazi campaign in Austria more than this stupid and brutal assassination. Though the Nazis' tactics have changed in the meantime, their long range policies toward Austria remain the same. Political and diplomatic strategy has replaced the armed Putsch. Reculer pour mieux sauter is the order of the day. An important move in this strategy was the Austro German accord of last July.

This pact, according to informed observers in Vienna, gave Mussolini the glory, and Austria the near term advantages, yet prepares the way for German control of Austria by means of so called 'parliamentary' methods. One of the most competent of these observers puts the case this way: 'If you had a fat Austrian hen, would you guard her by placing a hungry Italian fox on one side and a larger and even hungrier German fox on the other?'

The National Socialists are fond of talking about 'peaceful penetration' in Austria. Addressing the German Peasants Congress at Goslar on November 29, Air Minister Goering had these significant words to say about the Reich's relations with Austria: 'Let us not speak of Anschluss, but rather of unity of spirit and blood. We hope that this understanding will develop so that the cry "Heil Hitler!" will be understood in Austria no longer as a demonstration against the government there but as a demonstration for the government.'

And so the soft word has come to replace the Nazi mailed fist in Vienna. National Socialist speeches dealing with Austria drip with sentiments of brotherhood and dwell on the bonds of 'blood community,' 'Pan German solidarity,' and 'one people, one Reich, and one Führer.' As an indication that this strategy is winning objectives, the pronounced Pan German, Dr. Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, was recently appointed Austrian Minister of the Interior. Thus do Nazi 'parliamentary' methods bring unofficial Anschluss nearer.

The democratic and social minded little Republic of Czechoslovakia seriously threatened by the Reich drive to gain control of Austria. The drive is actually only part of a far more ambitious plan which includes conquering Czechoslovakia and partitioning its territory among Germany, Hugary, and Poland. The Nazis would enthusiastically 'solve' the problem of the Polish Corridor by giving the Poles land that belongs to somebody else in exchange for it. That is part of the 'dynamic' diplomacy of Adolf Hitler. Certainly in case of Anschluss Bohemia would be in the jaws of the Nazi pincers. The Führer would be able to close in on the Czechoslovak state with increasingly powerful propaganda economic and political penetration.

III

Rumania is another of the key objectives of German foreign policy. For some months this colorful little kingdom has been a battleground on which Nazis have waged violent warfare against their enemies who support Rumanian ties with France and the Little Entente and cooperation with the Soviet. As in other countries where there is a German minority, Hitler is using the Teutons in Rumania as shock troops to prepare the way for Nazi domination. His agents, abetted by such Rumanian anti Semitic fanatics as Cuza, Goga, and lonescu, have subsidized newspapers, organized riots, and have not stopped at assassination to remove troublesome enemies. General Cantacuzino, a boisterous Iron Guardist brandishes a revolver at public meetings to demonstrate his idea as to how 'the Jewish problem should be solved.'

On a hot evening last summer I was sitting on the terrace of the Café Corso in Bucharest, when three young Rumanian Nazis (so called 'students'), wearing chocolate colored shirts and the familiar swastika armbands, swagered up. Conversation in the café suddenly stopped, as apprehensive patrons watched the unwelcome guests. The latter lost no time in getting down to business. Apparently looking for people reading the Dimineata or the Adeverul, liberal daily newspapers, they went from table to table, seizing these publications and tearing them to bits in font of the owners' eyes. Approaching a group of Jews, the trio of terrorists cuffed one man, kicked the chair from under another, and spat in the beer of a third, reviling them as they staged their act of violence. The presence of two policemen at the corner only a few yards away had no effect on the three bullies. Unimpressive looking specimens they were, at that, undersized, sallow, and rat faced. But the crowds clustered about the cafe tables were thoroughly cowed, because no one was willing to invite the lethal vengeance of these youthful killers and their gangs.

The high spot of the pro Nazi campaign in Rumania was the late August political coup engineered by Fascist influences which removed Francophile Nicolas Titulescu from his post as Foreign Minister. His defeat was a damaging body blow to the Little Entente and to French interests in Central Europe and the Balkans. Nothing could better illustrate the effectiveness of Nazi activity in Rumania than Titulescu's sudden eclipse.

With Titulescu out of the way, temporarily at least, Ion Mihalache, president of the National Peasant Party, remains the principal obstacle to Nazi control of Rumanian affairs. As a general election should be held early in 1937, all Rumanian political parties have been engaged in a skirmishing campaign preliminary to the national poll. 'If the National Peasant Party comes to power,' Mihalache told the writer, 'we shall drive the Nazis out of Rumania.' But his frank and naive face inevitably inspires the question, Can this simple man cope with the resourcefulness and political cleverness of his Nazi opponents? Bucharest's estimate of him is summed up in the cynical remark: 'Mihalache is too honest to succeed in Rumanian politics.'

Idealism is not playing a major role in Rumania's attitude toward the contenders for her favor. Many in Bucharest are influenced by the Nazi argument that to be Germany's ally is to be in on the spoils, to be Germany's enemy is to be despoiled. A prominent member of the Rumanian Parliament and a former Cabinet Minister had this to say: 'If we cooperate with Hitler we can do a profitable business selling the Germans grain and oil. But if we oppose him the German army will come here, either through Czechoslovakia or by way of Austria and Hungary, and will take everything. Furthermore, if we are stupid enough to oppose the Reich, Germany will hand Transylvania over to Hungary and the Dobrudja over to Bulgaria.' A far cry from Titulescu's pro French policies, this postulate, of German triumph in the East.

IV

Hungary is watching this Nazi campaign closely, hoping that Rumania will oppose the Germans. In that event, the Magyars believe, it would be only a question of time till Germany's new army, sweeping through Czechoslovakia, would help the Hungarians reclaim their 'lost provinces.' What Hungary fears is that the Nazis will be able to win complete control of Rumania, thereby lessening for Germany the value of her Hungarian support. Such a development would make territorial revision at the expense of Rumania more difficult for the Magyars to achieve.

Though a member of the German alignment, Hungary is quietly trying to discourage manifestations of Nazi activity within her borders. It is one thing for the Magyars to line up with Germany against Czechoslovakia, but it is quite another matter for young men to strut along the Danube bank past the crowded terraces of Budapest's fashionable coffee houses wearing green shirts and black uniforms resembling those of Hitler's Schutzstaffeln. This is the outfit that denotes membership in the 'Arrow and Cross,' a Hungarian Nazi movement. Last summer Dr. Tibor Eckhardt's remark that 'green shirts mean green thoughts' almost involved him in a duel with the Party's leader, Count Festetics. It is, of course, rather confusing to many who are unable to distinguish between Hungary's whole hearted support of Nazi policies in the international field and her frowning attitude toward the Magyar or Swabian parties with National Socialist policies.

At this stage, however, the Reich is far more concerned with influencing Hungary's foreign policies than with building up a private army in the land of Arpad's descendants. Berlin wants to guide Budapest's foreign policies and 'coordinate' them with those of the Wilhelmstrasse. That the Germans have had no little success in this effort has been demonstrated by the change of tactics in the Hungarian revisionist campaign against the Little Entente. 'Make peace with Belgrade,' is the advice from Berlin, 'and disrupt the unity of the Little Entente.'

It is on the anti Soviet forces in Yugoslavia that Rosenberg's men are depending to weaken the bonds between Belgrade and Prague. The similarity of anti Communist views in Hungary and Yugoslavia has undoubtedly been helping along the pourparlers encouraged by Berlin. Moreover, the Spanish civil war has provided a powerful impetus toward solidarity of the Central European enemies of Bolshevism.

How far the Yugoslav Hungarian relations have progressed from a détente to a rapprochement is not known, but it is significant that the Hungarians are no longer hurling bitter recriminations across the frontier. The much publicized Hungarian revisionist slogan 'Nem! Nem! Soha!' has been quietly withdrawn from public view, the reason assigned privately by Budapest officials being their fear that it might give offense to Yugoslavs. This revolutionary change in Hungarian diplomacy does not mean a diminution of the Magyars' determination to regain their lost territories. It merely indicates that they have listened to the advice from Berlin. Again it is a triumph of the realism implicit in the policy of reculer pour mieux sauter.

Inasmuch as the Nazi Weg zur Weitmacht passes through Yugoslavia on its way toward Istamboul, it is important to German strategy to win Serbian good will. German officers have told the writer on numerous occasions that, of all the soldiers they fought on the various fronts during the war, the Serbian infantry were the best. Serbian officers have expressed a similar admiration for German military prowess. This mutual respect leads the Germans and Serbs to desire each other's support in any future war. But unlike the Rumanians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Greeks, and some other peoples in the Zwischenland, the Serbs are participating in no scramble to join the strongest battalions. Their foreign policy is not dominated by fear of being caught on the losing side. Their history from Kosovo to Sarajevo has shown them to be consistently willing to fight for a cause in which they believed, no matter how hopeless it seemed.

It is one thing for a nation to try to join the winning coalition, but it is quite another matter for a state to strive to avoid isolation. Every foreign ministry endeavors to escape national isolation. Because they face a traditionally hostile Italy on their western frontier, the Yugoslavs must always be on guard against any development that might pit them alone against a field of enemies headed by Mussolini. Here, too, the Serbs are not actuated solely by fear of playing David to the Duce's Goliath. A year ago they demonstrated their readiness to take risks and make sacrifices in an unselfish cause when they joined the sanctionist campaign against Italy and stopped selling goods to their best customer. This same largeness of spirit was demonstrated again by the South Slavs. They joined the mutual assistance Mediterranean pact sponsored by Britain which provided that the other member states would go to the of any member attacked by Italy. After assuming these risks, Belgrade was disillusioned at the League's failure to curb the Duce, and there ensued a aperceptible cooling of Serbian ardor for France. Yugoslavs asked themselves whether they could count on French assistance in the case of Italian aggression along the eastern shores of the Adriatic. German agents were quick to perceive the opportunity which this situation offered them, and they lost no time in assuring Belgrade that Berlin is the one capital in Europe on which Yugoslavia can depend for assistance.

The Teutonic minority in Yugoslavia is the largest and, by reason of its comparatively high cultural and economic level, the most important in the country. Unlike German minorities elsewhere, however, this group makes little trouble for the government under which it lives. On the contrary, it supports the present regime in Belgrade and profits politically thereby. Germany realizes that it has far more to gain by a policy of conciliation toward the Serbs than by making trouble for the Slavic majority. Consequently Dr. Kraft, leader of the German minority in the Yugoslav Parliament, last January joined the Yugoslav Radical Union, the government party in the kingdom, whence he can exert vastly greater influence on national policies than if he were identified with the opposition.

But it is in the economic field that the Reich is making its greatest effort to win Yugoslav favor. Sanctions against Italy deflected a considerable portion of South Slav agricultural export trade toward Germany and increased Yugoslav purchases of German machinery, chemicals, and electrical equipment. In the first half of 1936 German exports to Yugoslavia totaled 31.7 million marks, in contrast to 16.5 millions in the first half of 1985. But the most significant development in German Yugoslav commerce was an order received by the great German firm of Krupp for the construction of a steel plant at Zenica, in Bosnia. This factory is intended primarily for the manufacture of railroad and bridge material, but it can, if conditions require, be used for the production of munitions.

Thus there exists a mutual interdependence between the Serbian farmer and the German industrialist that has a bearing on the economic and political relations between the two countries. And, while it would certainly be premature to say that Yugoslavia is in the German alignment, any serious dispute between the Führer and the Duce would almost inevitably influence Belgrade to side with Berlin. Any future German Italian friction over Austria would undoubtedly cause a South Slav orientation toward the Reich. Yugoslavia's Prime Minister, Dr. Milan Stoyadinovitch, has stated bluntly: 'If the need arises, we shall not defend our frontiers by spilling ink.'

V

To the east of Yugoslavia lies the Kingdom of Bulgaria, one of the nations which are still smarting from the wounds of the past war and the treaties which officially brought it to a close.

Supine acceptance of defeat is not, however, a Bulgarian characteristic. Although the outlook has been anything but bright these past seventeen years, this little nation has steadily refused to bow its head and accept as permanent the loss of its AEgean littoral. Bulgaria grimly set to work to gain a new place in the European sun. Popular, democratic King Boris married a daughter of King Victor Emmanuel of Italy and tied his court with that of one of the major powers. By responding to the friendly overtures of the late King Alexander of Yugoslavia, he improved his relations with his old Slavic enemy on the west. But the Bulgars have not joined the Little or Balkan Ententes and they have shown no desire to accept the status of a lesser member of one of these groups. They are still in the game of picking a winner in the European conflict for which the Balkan politicians are preparing.

When the various national delegations paraded into the gigantic Olympic stadium at Berlin last summer, Nazi eyes glowed with delight and National Socialist hearts beat faster at the sight of the Bulgarians. These sturdy Balkan athletes came goose stepping on the field as a prelude to a full fledged straight armed salute to the Nazi All Highest. The Teutonic cheer that responded to the Bulgarian greeting must have stirred mocking echoes in the council chambers of Sofia, where King Ferdinand made his historic and ill fated effort to pick the winning side twenty one years before.

Bulgaria's southern neighbor, Greece, is one of the nations which hold former Bulgarian territory. The astute political strategists in Athens realize that if the Bulgarians are on the winning side the next time the Greeks will be on the losing side, unless steps are taken now to forestall such an outcome. Ever an arena of bitter party feuds, the Hellenic peninsula recently passed through another political revolution that made General Metaxas dictator. He is aided by a strong pro German element which takes its cues from Nazi coaches in Berlin. 'We shall never return to the parliamentary system,' he boasts. 'Little Moltke' Metaxas has lost no time in setting out to make his country over into an authoritarian state along the lines of the Third Reich. Nazi interests in Athens a furthered by large German purchase of Greek exports and by the fear of Italian encroachment which never ceases to haunt the Greeks. Memories of the Italian bombardment of Corfu and the catastrophe which befell Ethiopia have caused the diplomats of the Greek foreign office to look around for powerful aid against possible aggression by Rome. Berlin's emissaries sell armaments to Athens and sow in Greek soil the seeds of the idea that the Reich will not stand by and let the Duce pilfer Hellenic insular possessions. Not long ago Athens received a visit from Propaganda Minister Goebels certainly a sales promotion trip to advertise the Reich's political wares to a people who are thinking in terms of joining the most powerful legions.

Turkey is the final objective of the magic carpet which the Reichsführer would lay in his southeastern plans for the empire of Mitteleuropa. Mustapha Kemal Ataturk has reversed the traditional anti Russian policies of the Sublime Porte of the Sultans by establishing a friendship with the Kremlin that is almost tantamount to an alliance between Angora and Moscow, making the Turk the concierge of Russia's Dardanelles door to the Mediterranean. On the other hand, with Germany taking a heavy proportion of Turkish exports, Angora cannot afford to ignore lie political overtures from Berlin. Moreover Turkey is not isolated from the witches' cauldron of the Balkans. What if some political realignment should make Bulgaria a member of a strong coalition? That would certainly endanger Turkey's hold over her domains on the European side of the Sea of Marmora, especially in the neighborhood of Adrianople. Should either Germany or Italy gain a substantial foothold in the Balkans, Turkey would have to examine her political fences to determine whether they are strong enough to withstand attack from the invader. For Kemal cannot afford the luxury of an isolation that would give his enemies a favored position in a diplomatic and military combination that would force the descendants of Mohammed II back into Asia Minor. If Hitler's Drang nach Osten shows increasing momentum, Turkey will surely be compelled to weigh the danger of being caught on the losing side.

The importance that Germany attaches to these countries of south-eastern Europe may be judged from the recent visits of such Nazi luminaries as Schacht, von Neurath, Goering, and Goebbels to Budapest, Belgrade, Athens, Sofia, and Angora. When King Boris pins a high Bulgarian order on the expansive chest of Colonel General Wilhelm Goering, there is more involved than the bestowal of a decoration to embellish the many colorful uniforms of the chief of the Reich's great air armada. When Dr. Joseph Goebbels pays a visit to dusty Athens during the hot weather season, it is unlikely that he goes there only to meditate on the Golden Age of Pericles and the ideals of Plato's Republic. When whippet like Franz von Papen slips into Poland to 'shoot,' he is not trying to bag that elusive lynx of the Forest of Bialowieza which has escaped the ponderous Goering on many a similar 'hunt.' Nor does Dr. Hjalmar Schacht take the trip to Budapest solely to bathe in the famous swimming pool of the Hotel St. Gellert or to hear the gypsy music on the terrace of the Hungaria. It would be fantastic indeed if the former Austrian house painter should realize the pre war Hohenzollern Berlin to Bagdad dream!

War is still the' national industry of Prussia.' The Reich continues feverishly to rearm. Its munitions factories are the principal source of unemployment relief within the country. And its 'four year plan' is an effort to achieve military self sufficiency. But how long can Germany defy inexorable economic laws? Thus far the Führer has not been obliged to assume the risks inevitably inherent in war. By the use of diplomatic and military blackmail, he has been able to denounce all the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles except the territorial provisions. But the time will arrive when his opponents will be compelled to resist his aggressive tactics or give way to him completely.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where the Wild Things Go

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Adults Need Playtime Too

When was the last time you played your favorite childhood game?

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In