On this day 78 years ago and the previous day several letters via telegram were going back and fort between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler.
President Roosevelt appealed to Hitler for peace. Below are the texts of the letters and the response.
BERLIN, September 27, 1938
To His Excellency the President of the United States of America, Mr. Franklin Roosevelt, Washington.
In your telegram received by me on September 26 Your Excellency addressed an appeal to me in the name of the American people, in the interest of the maintenance of peace, not to break off negotiations in the dispute which has arisen in Europe, and to strive for a peaceful, honorable, and constructive settlement of this question. Be assured that I can fully appreciate the lofty intention on which your remarks are based and that I share in every respect your opinion regarding the unforeseeable consequences of a European war. Precisely for this reason, however, I can and must decline all responsibility of the German people and their leaders, if the further development, contrary to all my efforts up to the present, should actually lead to the outbreak of hostilities.
In order to arrive at a fair judgment regarding the Sudeten German problem under discussion, it is indispensable to consider the incidents in which, in the last analysis, the origin of this problem and its dangers had its cause. In 1918 the German people laid down their arms in the firm conviction that, by the conclusion of peace with their enemies at that time, those principles and ideals would be realized which had been solemnly announced by President Wilson, and just as solemnly accepted as binding by all the belligerent Powers. Never in history has the confidence of a people been more shamefully betrayed than was then. The peace conditions imposed on the conquered nations by the treaties concluded in the faubourgs of Paris have fulfilled none of the promises given. Rather they have created in Europe a political regime which made of the conquered nations’ world pariahs without rights, and which must have been recognized in advance by every discerning person as untenable.
One of the points in which the character of the dictates of 1919 was most clearly revealed was the founding of the Czechoslovak State and the establishment of its frontiers without any consideration for history or nationality. The Sudetenland was also included therein, although this area had always been German and although its inhabitants, after the destruction of the Hapsburg Monarchy, had unanimously declared their desire for Anschluss to the German Reich. Thus the right of self-determination, which had been proclaimed by President Wilson as the most important basis of national life, was simply denied to the Sudeten Germans.
But that was not enough. In the treaties of 1919 certain obligations with regard to the German people, which according to the text were far reaching, were imposed on the Czechoslovak State. These obligations too were disregarded from the first. The League of Nations has completely failed in the task assigned to it of guaranteeing the fulfillment of these obligations. Since then the Sudetenland has been engaged in the severest struggle for the maintenance of its German character.
It was a natural and inevitable development that, after the recovery of strength of the German Reich and after the reunion of Austria with it, the desire of the Sudeten Germans for preservation of their culture and for closer union with Germany increased. Despite the loyal attitude of the Sudeten German Party and its leaders, differences with the Czechs became ever stronger. From day to day it became more evident that the Government in Prague was not disposed seriously to consider the most elementary rights of the Sudeten Germans. On the contrary, they attempted by increasingly violent methods to enforce the Czechization of the Sudetenland. It was inevitable that this procedure should lead to ever greater and more serious tension.
The German Government at first did not intervene in any way in this development and maintained its calm restraint even when, in May of this year, the Czechoslovak Government proceeded to a mobilization of their army, under the purely fictitious pretext of German troop concentrations. The renunciation of military counter-measures in Germany at that time, however, only served to strengthen the uncompromising attitude of the Prague Government. This was clearly shown by the course of the negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the Sudeten German Party with the Government. These negotiations produced the conclusive proof that the Czechoslovak Government was far removed from treating the Sudeten German problem in a fundamental manner and bringing about an equitable solution.
Consequently, conditions in the Czechoslovak State, as is generally known, have in the last few weeks become completely intolerable. Political persecution and economic oppression have plunged the Sudeten Germans into untold misery. To characterize these circumstances it will suffice to refer to the following:
We reckon at present 214,000 Sudeten German refugees who had to leave house and home in their ancestral country and flee across the German frontier, because they saw in this the last and only possibility of escaping from the revolting Czech regime of force and bloodiest terror. Countless dead, thousands of wounded, tens of thousands of people detained and imprisoned, and deserted villages, are the accusing witnesses before world opinion of an outbreak of hostilities, and as you in your telegram rightly fear, carried out for a long time by the Prague Government, to say nothing of German economic life in the Sudeten German territory systematically destroyed by the Czech Government for 20 years, and which already shows all the signs of ruin which you anticipate as the consequence of an outbreak of war.
These are the facts which compelled me in my Nuremberg speech of September 13 to state before the whole world that the deprivation of rights of 3 1/2 million Germans in Czechoslovakia must cease, and that these people, if they cannot find justice and help by themselves, must receive both from the German Reich. However, to make a last attempt to reach the goal by peaceful means, I made concrete proposals for the solution of the problem in a memorandum delivered to the British Prime Minister on September 23, which in the meantime has been made public. Since the Czechoslovak Government had previously declared to the British and French Governments that they were already agreed that the Sudeten German settlement area should be separated from the Czechoslovak State and joined to the German Reich, the proposals of the German memorandum aim at nothing else than to bring about a prompt, sure, and equitable fulfillment of that Czechoslovak promise.
It is my conviction that you, Mr. President, when you realize the whole development of the Sudeten German problem from its inception to the present day, will recognize that the German Government have truly not been lacking either in patience or in a sincere desire for a peaceful understanding. It is not Germany who is to blame for the fact that there is a Sudeten German problem at all and that the present untenable conditions have arisen from it. The terrible fate of the people affected by the problem no longer admits of a further postponement of its solution. The possibilities of arriving at a just settlement by agreement are therefore exhausted with the proposals of the German memorandum. It now rests, not with the German Government, but with the Czechoslovak Government alone, to decide if they want peace or war.
Chancellor of the German Reich
“I desire to acknowledge Your Excellency’s reply to my telegram of September 26. I was confident that you would coincide in the opinion I expressed regarding the unforeseeable consequences and the incalculable disaster which would result to the entire world from the outbreak of a European war.
The question before the world today, Mr. Chancellor, is not the question of errors of judgment or of injustices committed in the past. It is the question of the fate of the world today and tomorrow. The world asks of us who at this moment are heads of nations the supreme capacity to achieve the destinies of nations without forcing upon them, as a price, the mutilation and death of millions of citizens.
Resort to force in the Great War failed to bring tranquillity. Victory and defeat were alike sterile. That lesson the world should have learned. For that reason above all others I addressed on September 26 my appeal to Your Excellency and to the President of Czechoslovakia and to the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and of France.
The two points I sought to emphasize were, first, that all matters of difference between the German Government and the Czechoslovak Government could and should be settled by pacific methods; and, second, that the threatened alternative of the use of force on a scale likely to result in a general war is as unnecessary as it is unjustifiable. It is, therefore, supremely important that negotiations should continue without interruption until a fair and constructive solution is reached.
My conviction on these two points is deepened because responsible statesmen have officially stated that an agreement in principle has already been reached between the Government of the German Reich and the Government of Czechoslovakia, although the precise time, method and detail of carrying out that agreement remain at issue.
Whatever existing differences may be, and whatever their merits may be—and upon them I do not and need not undertake to pass—my appeal was solely that negotiations be continued until a peaceful settlement is found, and that thereby a resort to force be avoided.
Present negotiations still stand open. They can be continued if you will give the word. Should the need for supplementing them become evident, nothing stands in the way of widening their scope into a conference of all the nations directly interested in the present controversy. Such a meeting to be held immediately-in some neutral spot in Europe—would offer the opportunity for this and correlated questions to be solved in a spirit of justice, of fair dealing, and, in all human probability, with greater permanence.
In my considered judgment, and in the light of the experience of this century, continued negotiations remain the only way by which the immediate problem can be disposed of upon any lasting basis.
Should you agree to a solution in this peaceful manner I am convinced that hundreds of millions throughout the world would recognize your action as an outstanding historic service to all humanity.
Allow me to state my unqualified conviction that history, and the souls of every man, woman, and child whose lives will be lost in the threatened war, will hold us and all of us accountable should we omit any appeal for its prevention.
The Government of the United States has no political involvements in Europe, and will assume no obligations in the conduct of the present negotiations. Yet in our own right we recognize our responsibilities as a part of a world of neighbors.
The conscience and the impelling desire of the people of my country demand that the voice of their government be raised again and yet again to avert and to avoid war.”
Eventually this was Hitler’s response