A Meeting at the Chancellery in 1937
Consideration of the Hossbach Memorandum has played a significant role in deciding the question of Hitler’s intention to wage war in Europe.
Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, and a number of other high-ranking military Germans met at the Chancellery in Berlin on 5th November 1937 and Hitler outlined a number of his ideas concerning where he saw things heading over the next few years.
Count Friedrich Hossbach was the staff officer who took the minutes of the meeting, which is why his name is attached to the document, which was discovered after the war and presented in evidence at the Nuremberg trials.
Hitler was clearly obsessed with the concept of “Lebensraum”, by which was meant “living space” for racially pure Germans. This concept was not new, in that it was not invented by the Nazis, but Hitler gave it the formulation of expansion eastwards into lands occupied by racially inferior people (in his eyes) such as the Slavs and the Poles.
At the “Hossbach” meeting, Hitler made clear that such moves would inevitably be opposed by France and Britain, so care would be needed to ensure that these powers would not cause trouble when the time came. The first move would be to absorb Austria and Czechoslovakia into the Reich.
Count Friedrich Hossbach was a member of the Wehrmacht (i.e. the professional armed services of Nazi Germany) who was appointed in 1934 to be military adjutant to Adolf Hitler. It was in fulfillment of that role that he was present at the meeting that bears his name.
In 1938 he was dismissed from his post when he forewarned General von Fritsch (who had also been present at the 1937 meeting) that he was about to be accused of indulging in homosexual practices.
Despite this setback, which could have cost him his life, Hossbach was able to gain promotion in the Army, eventually becoming the General in charge of the 4th Army on the Russian Front. However, he again fell foul of Adolf Hitler when he disobeyed an order that he saw as being unwise from a military point of view.
Hossbach was not a Nazi, and at the end of the war he was involved in a firefight with members of the Gestapo who had been sent to arrest him just as some American troops were approaching. The latter arrested him and he was therefore in their custody when the war ended.
Friedrich Hossbach died in 1980 at the age of 85.
Hitler believed that France would eventually fall into internal turmoil, at which point a move against the Czechs would be advisable. He also thought that Britain would soon be at war with Italy, and not in a position to wage war with Germany. Likewise, Russia was too preoccupied with events to the east, concerning Japan, to be an obstacle to Germany in the west.
However, Hitler said nothing about making war on his neighbours at an early date. He clearly believed that Germany would need to act before around 1943 or 1945, but that was six years ahead at the earliest.
As we all know, events moved faster than envisaged at the Hossbach meeting, with the “Anschluss” of Austria occurring in March 1938 (only four months after the meeting) and the annexation of the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia in September/October.
What Did the Memorandum Prove?
After Germany’s final defeat in 1945, the prosecutors at the Nuremberg tribunals produced the Hossbach Memorandum as evidence that Goering and others on trial had planned the war as far back as 1937. However, the British historian A J P Taylor, who was certainly no friend of Germany, took the view that the Memorandum proved nothing of the sort and could not be used as documentary evidence that Hitler was hell-bent on war at this time.
In Taylor’s opinion, all the Memorandum revealed was a vague rant on the part of Hitler concerning the possibility of a somewhat limited war at an indeterminate time several years in the future. To quote Taylor, “A racing tipster who only reached Hitler’s level of accuracy would not do well for his clients”.
Taylor’s words did not please those who wanted to prove intent on the part of Hitler, and he was accused by some of being an apologist for the Nazis. However, Taylor had shown that Hitler, not for the first nor the last time, was able to combine aggressive talk with an inability to translate intention into plans for action.
Historians have continued to argue ever since about whether the Hossbach meeting marked a turning point in the events leading to World War II, or whether it is wrong to see the Memorandum in this light. As with many incidents in history, it is always difficult to view an event in isolation from the events that followed it.