Hitler’s Secret Meetings

The International Military Tribunal (IMT) in its final judgment cited four secret meetings held by Hitler which indicated his plans to conduct aggressive war. In these meetings, held on November 5, 1937, May 23, 1939, August 22, 1939, and November 23, 1939, Hitler allegedly made important declarations explicitly stating his desire to conduct aggressive war. The IMT used these meetings to prove that many of the IMT defendants had participated in a preconceived plan to conduct a war of criminal aggression.1

This article shows that none of these secret meetings indicates that Hitler had a preconceived plan to conduct aggressive war.

November 5, 1937 Meeting

Hitler addressed a conference attended by some of his advisers on November 5, 1937. The attendees at this conference included Defense Minister Werner von Blomberg, Army Commander Werner von Fritsch, Navy Commander Erich Raeder, Air Force Commander Hermann Göring, and Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath. Col. Friedrich Hossbach, an officer of the German General Staff assigned by the General Staff for liaison work with Hitler, was also present. Hossbach was never Hitler’s personal adjutant, although this idea has persisted in some accounts.2

The Hossbach version of this conference became one of the most celebrated documents of the war. It was written several days after the conference, and it would carry no weight in a normal court of law, even if an actual copy of this memorandum was available. Hossbach had been an opponent of Hitler since 1934, and he was not against using illegal and revolutionary means to eliminate Hitler. He was an ardent admirer of Gen. Ludwig Beck, the German Chief of Staff, whose life he had helped save during a cavalry accident. Beck, who was a determined foe of Hitler, was engaged in organizing opposition against Hitler. Hossbach was eager to provide Beck with every possible kind of propaganda material, since Hitler at the time was popular in Germany, and only extreme methods might be effective in opposing Hitler.3

It has never been shown that the version of this meeting introduced at Nuremberg was an authentic copy of the memorandum which Hossbach began to write on November 10, 1937 (he failed to recall later when he completed his effort). The fact is that no copies of the original version of the Hossbach memorandum have ever been found.

The version introduced by the American prosecution at Nuremberg was said to be a copy made from the original version in late 1943 or early 1944. However, Hossbach declared in a notarized affidavit on June 18, 1946, that he could not remember if the Nuremberg copy corresponded to the original which he had made almost nine years earlier. Thus, the Hossbach memorandum, which was a primary instrument used in securing the conviction and execution of many top German leaders, has never been verified. There is no reason to assume that it is authentic.4

Erich Raeder explained that Hitler’s views, as expressed on November 5, 1937, offered no basis to conclude that any change in German foreign policy was about to take place. Raeder testified that neither he, nor von Fritsch, nor von Blomberg believed that Hitler meant war. However, the IMT judges, with the dubious help of this unconfirmed record, decided that Hitler had revealed unmistakably in the Hossbach memorandum his unalterable intention to wage a war of criminal aggression.5

Fritsch and Blomberg were dead when the Allies investigated this conference after World War II. Neurath and Göring, however, agreed with Raeder about the essential nature of Hitler’s remarks. Hitler had discussed German aspirations in Central Europe and the danger of war, but he had never announced an intention to pursue a reckless foreign policy or to seek a war.

Even the alleged Hossbach memorandum introduced at Nuremberg, as British historian A.J.P. Taylor has pointed out, does not anticipate any of the actual events which followed in Europe. It does contain some belligerent ideas, but it outlines no specific actions, and it establishes no timetables.6

Udo Walendy wrote:

The so-called “Hossbach Memorandum” does not furnish any proof that Hitler had been planning “a conspiracy against peace;” on the contrary, it is a classic example of how the postwar “judiciary” and their propaganda “historians” were forced to fall back on the notes of German resistance adherents and still had to falsify and exaggerate these in order to give such an indictment a veneer of legality.7

Thus, it was false to assume that the Hossbach memorandum was authentic in the first place, and it was incorrect to assume that even the fraudulent document introduced at the IMT contained any damaging evidence against Hitler and the other German leaders. Unfortunately, many historians have blindly followed the IMT judgment. These historians have arrived at the mistaken conclusion that Hitler’s conference of November 5, 1937, was relevant in indicating Hitler’s responsibility for starting World War II.8

May 23, 1939 Meeting

On May 23, 1939, a meeting was held in Hitler’s study in the new Reich Chancellery in which Hitler allegedly announced and gave the reasons for his decision to attack Poland. Among the persons present at this meeting were IMT defendants Hermann Göring, Erich Raeder, and Wilhelm Keitel. The adjutant on duty that day was Lt. Col. Rudolf Schmundt, who afterwards allegedly made a record of what was said during the meeting, certifying it with his signature as a correct record.9

Unlike Friedrich Hossbach, Rudolf Schmundt was a loyal National Socialist who could be trusted to tell the truth about what Hitler said in this meeting. However, Schmundt was injured in the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt of Hitler, and died a few months later from his wounds. Thus, he was not able to testify at the IMT as to what was said in this meeting. The question of the authenticity of his record of this meeting remains unresolved.10

Grand Adm. Raeder, when confronted at the IMT with the Schmundt transcript, said in court:

In my opinion, it is the most obscure document about a speech of Hitler which exists anywhere, for a large part of its statements in my opinion make no sense at all…It simply in no way reflects the character of the speech correctly.11

We know for certain that Poland had made major threats against Germany. Poland threatened Germany with a partial mobilization of her forces on March 23, 1939. Hundreds of thousands of Polish Army reservists were mobilized, and Hitler was warned that Poland would fight to prevent the return of Danzig to Germany. The Poles were surprised to discover that Germany did not take this challenge seriously. Hitler, who deeply desired friendship with Poland, refrained from responding to the Polish threat of war. Germany did not threaten Poland and took no precautionary military measures in response to the Polish partial mobilization.12

The situation between Germany and Poland deteriorated rapidly during the brief span of six weeks from the Polish partial mobilization of March 23, 1939, to a speech delivered by Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck on May 5, 1939. Beck’s primary purpose in delivering his speech before the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, was to convince the Polish public and the world that he was able and willing to challenge Hitler. Beck knew that British Foreign Minister Lord Halifax had succeeded in creating a warlike atmosphere in Great Britain, and that he could go as far as he wanted without displeasing the British. Beck took an uncompromising attitude in his speech that effectively closed the door to further negotiations with Germany.

Beck made numerous false and hypocritical statements in his speech. One of the most astonishing claims in his speech was that there was nothing extraordinary about the British military guarantee to Poland. He described it as a normal step in the pursuit of friendly relations with a neighboring country. This was in sharp contrast to British diplomat Sir Alexander Cadogan’s statement to Joseph Kennedy that Britain’s guarantee to Poland was without precedent in the entire history of British foreign policy.13

Beck ended his speech with a stirring climax that produced wild excitement in the Polish Sejm. Someone in the audience screamed loudly, “We do not need peace!” and pandemonium followed. Beck had made many Poles in the audience determined to fight Germany. This feeling resulted from their ignorance which made it impossible for them to recognize the numerous falsehoods and misstatements in Beck’s speech. Beck made the audience feel that Hitler had insulted the honor of Poland with what were quite reasonable peace proposals. The Polish Foreign Minister had effectively closed the door to further negotiations with Germany. Beck had made Germany the deadly enemy of Poland.14

In this environment, it would have been foolish for Hitler not to have made adequate military preparations. Schmundt’s notes suggest that Hitler was envisaging the possibility of conflict with Poland and the Western Powers, but that he hoped to prevent the intervention of the Western Powers by diplomatic means if a war occurred between Germany and Poland.

Gen. Wilhelm Keitel recalled after World War II that he left the meeting of May 23rd with the firm belief that there would be no war. Joachim von Ribbentrop stated after the war that Hitler “repeatedly told me that one had to talk with military men as if war was about to break out here or there on the next day.” Most analysts would regard this as a reasonable policy concerning the relationship between political and military leaders.15

August 22, 1939 Meeting

The IMT judgment stated:

On the 22nd August 1939 there took place the important meeting of that day…The prosecution has been put into evidence two unsigned captured documents which appear to be records made of this meeting by persons who were present. The first document is headed: “The Fuehrer’s speech to the Commanders in Chief of the 22nd August 1939…” The purpose of this speech was to announce the decision to make war on Poland at once…16

Hitler at this meeting had summoned the leaders of the army groups and of the armies of the three branches of the Wehrmacht to his Obersalzberg residence to instruct them about the foreign policy situation and to brief them about the possible campaign against Poland. This speech to his generals is probably Hitler’s most frequently quoted speech. There are seven transcripts and protocols of this speech, which in parts are very different from each other.17 Thus, no one knows exactly what Hitler said in this meeting.

By August 22, 1939, the Poles had conducted numerous acts of aggression and discrimination against the Germany minority in Poland. Dutch historian Louis de Jong wrote that, on March 25, 1939, windows were smashed in the houses of many ethnic Germans in Posen and Kraków, and in those of the German embassy in Warsaw. German agricultural co-operatives in Poland were later dissolved and many German schools were closed, while ethnic Germans who were active in the cultural sphere were taken into custody. Around the middle of May 1939, in one small town where 3,000 ethnic Germans lived, many household effects in houses and shops were smashed to bits. The remaining German clubs were closed in the middle of June.18

De Jong wrote that, by mid-August 1939, the Poles proceeded to arrest hundreds of ethnic Germans. German printing shops and trade union offices were closed, and numerous house-to-house searches took place. Eight ethnic Germans who had been arrested in Upper Silesia were shot to death during their transport to an internment camp.19

Donald Day, a well-known Chicago Tribune correspondent, reported on the atrocious treatment the Poles had meted out to the ethnic Germans in Poland:

I traveled up to the Polish Corridor where the German authorities permitted me to interview the German refugees from many Polish cities and towns. The story was the same. Mass arrests and long marches along roads toward the interior of Poland. The railroads were crowded with troop movements. Those who fell by the wayside were shot. The Polish authorities seemed to have gone mad. I have been questioning people all my life and I think I know how to make deductions from the exaggerated stories told by people who have passed through harrowing personal experiences. But even with generous allowance, the situation was plenty bad. To me the war seemed only a question of hours.20

William Lindsay White, an American journalist, recalled that there was no doubt among well-informed people that, by August 1939, horrible atrocities were being inflicted every day on the ethnic German minority of Poland. White said that a letter from the Polish government claiming that no persecution of the Germans in Poland was taking place had about as much validity as the civil liberties guaranteed by the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union.21

Polish Ambassador Jerzy Potocki unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Józef Beck to seek an agreement with Germany. Potocki later succinctly explained the situation in Poland by stating “Poland prefers Danzig to peace.”22 Polish armed forces Commander-in-Chief Edward Rydz-Smigly also declared, “Poland wants war with Germany, and Germany will not be able to avoid it, even if she wants to.”23

American historian David Hoggan wrote that the leaders of the German minority in Poland repeatedly appealed to the Polish government for mercy during this period, but to no avail. More than 80,000 German refugees had been forced to leave Poland by August 20, 1939, and virtually all other ethnic Germans in Poland were clamoring to leave to escape Polish atrocities.24

British Ambassador Nevile Henderson in Berlin was concentrating on obtaining recognition from Halifax of the cruel fate the German minority faced in Poland. Henderson emphatically warned Halifax on August 24, 1939, that German complaints about the treatment of the German minority in Poland were fully supported by the facts. Henderson knew that the Germans were prepared to negotiate, and he stated to Halifax that war between Poland and Germany was inevitable unless negotiations were resumed between the two countries. Henderson pleaded with Halifax that it would be contrary to Polish interests to attempt a full military occupation of Danzig, and he added a scathingly effective denunciation of Polish policy. What Henderson failed to realize is that Halifax was pursuing war for its own sake as an instrument of policy. Halifax desired the complete destruction of Germany.25

Hoggan wrote that Hitler was faced with a terrible dilemma. If Hitler did nothing, the Germans of Poland and Danzig would be abandoned to the cruelty and violence of a hostile Poland. If Hitler took effective action against the Poles, the British and French might declare war against Germany. Henderson feared that an atrocity in Bielitz would be the final straw to prompt Hitler to invade Poland. Henderson, who strongly desired peace with Germany, deplored the failure of the British government to exercise restraint over the Polish authorities.26

It was reasonable for Hitler in this environment to talk about a possible invasion of Poland. This meeting does not indicate that Hitler had a preconceived plan to conduct aggressive war against Poland and other European nations.

November 23, 1939 Meeting

The authenticity of Hitler’s statements allegedly made at this November 23, 1939 meeting has been questioned by many historians. For example, Udo Walendy wrote: “This ‘document,’ also, has the same typical flaws in format and contents that characterize the other ‘key documents’ of the IMT prosecution: no date, no heading, no signature, so that here too, prerequisites for establishing a body of evidence elude the historian…” Walendy noted that the document also contained an outpouring of transparently flimsy hypotheses of Allied war propaganda.27

This conference was held after England and France had declared war on Germany. Hitler in this conference stated that progress in the war depended on the possession of the Ruhr. Germany would be in the greatest danger if England and France pushed through Belgium and Holland into the Ruhr. Since the sympathies of the people in Belgium and Holland were all for France and England, Hitler felt that breach of the neutrality of these two countries was necessary to prevent their occupation by France and England. Hitler stated that if Germany did not break the neutrality of Belgium and Holland, then England and France would.28

The IMT judgment concluded:

There is no evidence before the Tribunal to justify the contention that the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg were invaded by Germany because their occupation had been planned by England and France. British and French staffs had been cooperating in making certain plans for military operations in Low Countries, but the purpose of this planning was to defend these countries in the event of a German attack.

The invasion of Belgium, Holland, and Luxemburg was entirely without justification.29

The IMT judgment does not mention the fact that Hitler was eager to make peace once England and France had declared war against Germany. Hitler confided to his inner circle: “If we on our side avoid all acts of war, the whole business will evaporate. As soon as we sink a ship and they have sizeable casualties, the war party over there will gain strength.”30

Hitler made a peace offer on October 6, 1939 to the English and French governments. Included in this peace offer were the evacuation of Poland by the Wehrmacht, except for Danzig and the Corridor. Hitler obviously would not have included the evacuation of Poland in his peace offer if he had wanted Poland as “Lebensraum in the East.”31 Hitler’s peace offer was very reasonable, but it was quickly rejected by the English and French governments.

A few days after Belgium and Holland had made mediation proposals, Winston Churchill stated in November 1939 on British radio: “This war is a British war and its aim is the destruction of Germany.”32 Britain and France never showed the slightest interest in making peace with Germany.

The IMT judgment’s statement that England and France had never planned to attack Germany through Belgium, Holland, and Luxemburg is absurd. The British had already been involved in attempting to conduct aggressive war against Germany. William Henry Chamberlain wrote:

The hypocrisy of the war-crimes trials is well illustrated by the case of the German, Admiral Erich Raeder, who was given a life sentence for plotting aggressive war, namely, helping to plan the Nazi invasion of Norway. Lord Hankey revealed some years back that the British were making identical plans at the same time. Winston Churchill admitted this to be a fact in his book, The Gathering Storm. Final confirmation has recently been offered by the publication of the first volume of the British Official History of the Second World War. This sets forth in detail the plan approved by the British War Council as early as February 6, 1940. It embraced the seizure of Narvik and the occupation by force of northern Norway and Sweden, even including the Swedish port of Lulea on the Baltic.33


None of the secret meetings mentioned in the IMT judgment indicates that Hitler had a preconceived plan to conduct aggressive war. Although American IMT prosecutor Robert Jackson and others associated with the IMT tried to present it as a high point in the development of international law and justice, the IMT was actually a politically motivated proceeding which failed to produce credible evidence of a German plan to conduct a war of criminal aggression.


1 Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression: Opinion and Judgment, Office of United States Chief of Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality, United States Government Printing Office, 1947, p. 18.

2 Hoggan, David L., The Forced War: When Peaceful Revision Failed, Costa Mesa, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1989, p. 82.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., pp. 82-83.

5 Nazi Conspiracy, op. cit., p. 21.

6 Hoggan, op. cit., p. 83.

7 Walendy, Udo, Truth for Germany: The Guilt Question of the Second War, Washington, D.C.: The Barnes Review, 2013, p. 454.

8 Hoggan, op. cit., p. 83.

9 Nazi Conspiracy, op. cit., pp. 27, 30.

10 Hoggan, op. cit., p. 415.

11 Schultze-Rhonhof, Gerd, 1939—The War that Had Many Fathers: The Long Run-Up to the Second World War, 6th edition, Olzog Verlag GmbH, München, Germany, 2011, p. 398.

12 Hoggan, op. cit., pp. 311-312.

13 Ibid., pp. 381, 383.

14 Ibid., pp. 384, 387.

15 Ibid., pp. 415-416.

16 Nazi Conspiracy, op. cit., p. 31.

17 Schultze-Rhonhof, op. cit., pp. 403-404.

18 Jong, Louis de, The German Fifth Column in the Second World War, New York: Howard Fertig, 1973, pp. 36-37.

19 Ibid., p. 37.

20 Day, Donald, Onward Christian Soldiers, Newport Beach, CA: The Noontide Press, 2002, p. 56.

21 Hoggan, op. cit., p. 554.

22 Ibid., p. 419.

23 Edward Rydz-Smigly, Daily Mail (London), vol. 22, nr. 174, August 6, 1939, p. 1.

24 Hoggan, op cit., pp. 358, 382, 388, 391-92, 479.

25 Ibid., pp. 500-501, 550.

26 Ibid., p. 509.

27 Walendy, op. cit., p. 469.

28 Nazi Conspiracy, op. cit., pp. 39-40.

29 Ibid., p. 40.

30 Buchanan, Patrick J., Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, New York: Crown Publishers, 2008, p. 331.

31 Schultze-Rhonhof, op. cit., p. 667.

32 Walendy, op. cit., p. 341.

33 Chamberlain, William Henry, “The Bankruptcy of a Policy,” in Barnes, Harry Elmer (ed.), Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Newport Beach, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1993, p. 535.

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