by John Cudahy
“Convoys mean war,” Adolf Hitler told me quietly on the afternoon of May 23 as we sat in the famous living room of his Berghof at Berchtesgaden. International legal precedents were well established, he said, that escorting munitions, war materials, and deadly weapons to an enemy with armed naval forces was a warlike act. These precedents had been determined by Anglo-Saxon maritime powers for a long time, were thoroughly well known and understood by all legal authorities.
At my side was the celebrated interpreter Herr Schmidt and, across the big round table, Walter Hewel, liaison officer of the German Foreign Office. Through the largest bay window I have ever seen, the snow-sheeted Alps seemed startlingly close and white as antimony in the spring sunshine. Far down, the green valley was polka-dotted with spring flowers. The distant silhouette of Salzburg looked vague and fluttering against a cumulus cloud embankment, like a phantom city.
I told the Führer that the primary cause of opposition to Germany in the U.S. was based upon the sentiment that the security of the Western Hemisphere was threatened by German aggression. People argued that German conquest might go on and on and the next logical field for German military adventure was the two American continents. He laughed and refused to take me seriously. He said the idea of a Western Hemisphere invasion was about as fantastic as an invasion of the moon.
I replied that, fantastic or not, an eventual attack by Germany on the Americas was feared by a large number of thoughtful American people. He could not believe it, he persisted, because he had too high an opinion on the intelligence and good sense of Americans. He said he was convinced this invasion story was put out by warmongers against their better knowledge, men who wanted war in the belief it would be profitable for business — an erroneous conception since the last great war had demonstrated that war was ruinous to business.
He said that the German High Command considered an invasion of either American continent to be as wildly imaginary as an invasion of the moon and he was confident that Army and Navy chiefs in the U.S. shared the same views as the German military authorities.
“Why,” he asked, “do not the British send more troops to Greece and North Africa?” He answered his own question by saying it was because sufficient transports were not available although the distances were comparatively short. The combined shipping tonnage of Britain, the U.S. and Germany would be hopelessly inadequate, he insisted, to transport an army of millions which would be required for a successful conquest of the Western Hemisphere.
The German Army, he went on, was not concerned with military expeditions for the sake of showing off or in order to demonstrate that nothing was impossible for German arms. At present these armed forces are concerned with an attack of 100 kilometers over open water, in the case of Crete. And England is separated from the continent by only 40 kilometers of open water. If the Crete enterprise has seemed difficult, he said, an attack over 4,000 kilometers of open water, as would be the case with the U.S., is simply unthinkable.
He said he had never heard anybody in Germany say that the Mississippi River was a German frontier in the same spirit that the Prime Minister of Australia had referred to the Rhine as a frontier of that country. But, since the Rhine was their frontier, he had decided to send some Australian prisoners to that famous German river so that they might acquaint themselves with frontier atmosphere.
He assured me that Germany had too many serious problems in Europe to ever give any thought to an American invasion. I told Herr Hitler that many people shared his view that the Atlantic offered too formidable a military obstacle to be surmounted at present, but the same people who expressed this opinion believed that a German triumph would mean economic disaster to the U.S. The reason for this belief, I said, was because of a lower standard of living for workers in Germany and disciplinary methods imposed upon German labor which would never be accepted in the U.S. Therefore American industrial output could not compete with that of Germany.
He replied that he did not think the living standard of German workers was so low. The controlling purpose of National Socialism, he said, was to improve living conditions for working people. This effort the war had interrupted, but it would be renewed with redoubled force when peace came, and he had great ambitions for the common man in Germany. Among other things he hoped to see him own an automobile.
He reminded me that Germany with a population density of 140 persons to the square kilometer had risen out of depression and provided jobs for all so that there were no longer any unemployed while the U.S. with only eleven per square kilometer was unable to cope with a very serious unemployment problem. He asked me why the German nation was singled out as an economic menace to America when Germany had an area of only 600,000 to 700,000 square kilometers and a population of only 85,000,000 while the British Empire had a population of 400,000,000, Japan 100,000,000, Russia 170,000,000 and other nations of the world 500,000,000. He inquired why, if German competition was so greatly feared, her colonies had been taken away from Germany, and said that development of the colonies would have presented a great outlet for German industrial output.
He asked further why the U.S. was opposed to the organization of Europe so as to provide markets in Europe for German goods, thereby lessening the probability of competition with the U.S. Southeastern Europe was, he said, a natural complement to German economy for the Balkan countries had a surplus of agricultural produce which they could exchange for Germany’s industrial products. That was, he insisted, the “iron rule of trade.” No country could buy from another unless it could also sell, and how, he asked, could the U.S. with its great agricultural surpluses offer to take farm produce from Southeastern Europe in payment for American manufactured articles?
I inquired whether or not he envisaged a trade union for Europe with suppression of quotas, tariffs, currency restrictions etc., etc. He replied that he thought all commercial relations between countries could be assured by long-term trade treaties guaranteeing to both partners a profitable arrangement and suppressing the element of speculation which has always been cursed business. He saw no future in trade relations based on loans because, he told me, loans have to be paid back and the end of borrowing is often bankruptcy.
The future trade of Germany, he declared, would not be based upon paper but upon exchange of commodity for commodity with an absolute exclusion of speculation. Professors had scorned his economic theories but in 20 or 30 years, he predicted, they would be teaching them in universities.
I asked about gold and its function in the future international trade of Germany. He said that Germany had been deprived of all its gold by the necessity of paying reparations and had been forced to devise a system of international trade without gold. Yet he recognized the usefulness of gold in providing a more elastic method of mercantile dealing between nations and as a basis of credit.
I then turned to countries occupied by German military forces and asked the Führer if he could indicate in broadest outline his disposition with reference to such nations. I told him frankly my question was inspired by a belief among many Americans that German domination of Europe meant suppression of native national languages, customs, and institutions.
His reply was that Germany had not commenced this war. War had been declared against Germany be France and England. It was strange, he said, to hear the British discourse on world domination when they held in oppression millions of subject Indians, Egyptians, and Arabs.
“We shall settle relations with our neighbors in such a way that all will enjoy peace and prosperity,” he summarized.
I returned to the case of Belgium, explaining that my interest had a personal angle because I had lived in that country. His answer was that his formula for the future of Europe was “peace, prosperity, and happiness.” Germany, he said, was not interested in slaves or the enslavement of any people.
At the conclusion of our discussion, Herr Hitler, stating that he had tried to answer all my inquiries with clarity and candor, expressed skepticism of any beneficial results from this interview. He said that time after time he had tried to emphasize that the position of Germany and his plans were not inimical to the U.S. but that his efforts had always proved futile.
Source: John Cudahy, LIFE Magazine, June 9, 1941, pp. 34-36.