The recorder stayed hidden: Lieutenant Captain Martin Baltzer sat "behind a curtain" while the guest of honor spoke and took notes. Because it was certainly not what the speaker wanted his words to be recorded. It was Friday, February 3, 1933, between 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Host Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, formally the highest-ranking soldier in the Reichswehr, had gathered 26 guests in the dining room of the Berlin office of the Chief of Army Command.
The formal reason for the meeting was the 60th birthday of Reich Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath the day before, but the top German generals actually wanted to get to know their new civilian superior, the new Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler. The generous suite of rooms in the east wing of the new Reichswehr block on Bendlerstraße on the edge of the Tiergarten was ideally suited to this: politically neutral terrain, so to speak.
Despite the very short notice of the invitation - Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor at noon on January 30 came as a surprise to Hammerstein and all his guests - the commanders of all seven infantry and at least one of the three cavalry divisions had gathered, as well as the top of the Reichswehr Ministry, the Army and Navy Command. Hitler brought only his head of the Reich Chancellery, Hans-Heinrich Lammers, and his personal adjutant, Wilhelm Brückner.
Although the Reich Chancellor had appeared on foreign territory, he refrained from any restraint. Did Hitler know that two adjutants were taking notes? In addition to naval officer Martin Baltzer, who accompanied Admiral Erich Raeder, Hammerstein's adjutant Horst von Mellenthin also recorded the guest's remarks. There was even a third guest who wrote down at least a brief summary of what he heard: General Curt von Liebmann, the commander of the Württemberg Reichswehr Division.
Raeder and Hammerstein had probably commissioned their escort officers to document the speech. Apparently Hitler noticed, because Mellenthin's version, which he dictated the following day from his own shorthand, had to be delivered. It is unclear what happened to Baltzer's version, although a copy of it made it to Moscow of all places within a few days. Two of Hammerstein's daughters, Marie-Louise and Helga, sympathized with the Communists.
What Soviet secret service agents – it is unclear whether Stalin too – got to read around mid-February 1933 must have startled them. Because the new man at the top in Berlin expressed himself even more clearly than usual in his numerous public speeches, his most important political instrument.
"I set myself a deadline of six to eight years to completely destroy Marxism," Hitler announced to the assembled generals: "Then the army will be able to conduct an active foreign policy and the goal of expanding the living space of the German people will also be reached with armed hands.” And he became even clearer: “The goal would probably be the East.” So Poland and above all the Soviet Union.
Hitler also revealed how the “Lebensraum” was to be expanded: “A Germanization of the population of the annexed or conquered country is not possible. You can only Germanize soil.” In other words, the people who lived there should be expelled – or killed.
The gentlemen from the Reichswehr listened - and at least some of them didn't take their new superior seriously. For example, General Ludwig Beck, commander of the first cavalry division, could not remember exactly what the new chancellor had said for a short time after the speech. Another participant felt the explanations as "confused roller".
The historian Andreas Wirsching, who found the hitherto unknown Baltzer transcript in the 1990s at the same time as, but independently of, his colleague Reinhard Müller, judged: "It is more likely, however, that the generals present understood Hitler's foreign policy statements, including the , Germanisation' passage, mostly did not have any clear ideas, accepted them with approval or considered them unrealistic and thus underestimated them."
Colonel Friedrich Fromm at the time is said to have said to General Werner von Fritsch that "the excessive plans would fail due to the severity of the facts and would be reduced to a sober level". Walther von Brauchitsch, division commander in Königsberg, commented on Hitler's speech with the words: "Well, he'll still be surprised in his life!"
Fromm, on the other hand, made a career in the Third Reich up to the second highest rank as Generaloberst, was acquainted with the failed coup d'état on July 20, 1944, betrayed Claus von Stauffenberg and was still unable to save his life, because Hitler had him shot. Fritsch first rose to the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Army, but from 1938 he was subjected to a smear campaign and dismissed for objecting; in September 1939 he tried to die as a soldier near Warsaw. Brauchitsch became Fritsch's successor at the head of the army, received the marshal's baton in 1940 and was deposed in December 1941.
Incidentally, host Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord felt his skepticism was confirmed. As early as the winter of 1924/25 he had met the failed putschist Hitler, who had just been released early from prison, for the first time – and had judged him to be a “muddlehead, albeit a clever muddlehead”. At the end of the 1920s, this impression was confirmed at a second meeting: Hitler talked "too much and too much in a jumble". In 1931, however, he came to meet him: "We want it slower. Otherwise we actually agree.”
But that was probably more tactical. The chief of the army command obviously did not feel well. Less than ten months after the meeting in his official residence, he was looking to retire from active service, which made Joseph Goebbels rejoice. After retirement, he was then regarded as a central figure in the military resistance against Hitler, but he died in 1943 without having become active himself.
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