The Gathering Storm
AS THE early months of 1939 passed by, a growing sense of uneasiness prevailed. Nazi Germany was on the march in Europe. It had already annexed Austria. Czechoslovakia had been divided and the Czechs subjugated. The Polish situation was becoming more and more strained, seriously affecting relations between Germany on the one hand and France and Britain on the other. What would be the end of this tense state of affairs? The Dutch Government viewed it with concern, despite a reasonable hope that Holland might not be drawn in.
The basis for this hope lay in the fact that soon after war broke out, Germany asked the Netherlands to protect her interests in Poland and in South Africa, including the mandated territory of Southwest Africa, one of the former German colonies. It seemed an excellent sign of Germany's intentions to leave Holland out of the war: could one suspect that, of all the countries she might have requested to take charge of her interests there, she would have singled out this country if her secret purpose was to wage war on it? At as late a date as March 27, 1940, Germany appeared to give us another token of her confidence by asking us to assume the protection of her interests in the Cameroons, an ex-German colony, now
under a mandate held by France. To the superficial observer, this might well have been fresh evidence of a complete absence on Germany's part of any aggressive designs against our country. Yet we set no great store by it. We knew too well that important decisions in Germany are taken by very few people, if not by Herr Hitler alone; all matters of routine are dealt with by bureaucrats who know nothing of any momentous decisions which may be under consideration, and those civil servants whose business it is to look after German interests abroad belong to this great majority, efficient in detail, uninformed in matters of policy.
This guardianship of German interests cost many Dutch diplomats and consuls a great deal of time and exertion. To us, it meant no more than that; the only reward was to be an assault on our country. None the less, at this time, war seemed by no means certain. Would Germany, forcing the issue, challenge the united forces of Britain, France, and Poland? Numerous thoughtful people in Holland, as in America, doubted it. The prospect seemed too terrible, and it is a common human weakness not to believe that a disastrous development is inevitable until it is actually at hand. Spring went on to early summer. Holland's tulips bloomed as gloriously as they did in so many previous peaceful years; the country had a look of quiet prosperity. What, except the columns of foreign news in the newspapers, seemed to point to war?
It was in this atmosphere that, one day in June, my
wife and I set out for Berne. I had been designated some time before to take up the post of Her Majesty's Minister to Switzerland, where we were now proceeding in order to find a suitable residence in which to establish the Legation. We soon found what we had been looking for: a delightful house in its own grounds, in the outskirts of the quaint old Swiss capital. Life seemed very good indeed at that moment, with the prospect of an interesting post in a beautiful country which we were fond of and knew well, among a congenial population united with the Netherlands by a common love of free national institutions and by a friendship centuries old. Before returning to The Hague, we happily planned our future home and made all arrangements for its decoration and equipment, from carpets and curtains down to the champagne for our reception of the Dutch colony on the Queen's birthday on August 31st.
We planned to move in by the middle of August. It would be a welcome change, after many consecutive years in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in The Hague.
But Fate had decided otherwise. By the end of July an unexpected Cabinet crisis arose. At the very moment when we were leaving our apartment at The Hague, the telephone rang. The Minister of State, who had been requested to form a new Government, wished to see me. I shall not forget that Sunday.
Jonkheer de Geer received me in his garden and with little introduction asked me to take the portfolio of
Foreign Affairs in the new Cabinet. In spite of the honor, I felt very reluctant to accept. I had served in the foreign ministry for nearly twenty years and well knew what the burden of being at the head of that department implied. Some of its chiefs, able men, animated with the best of intentions, had reaped considerable public criticism for their toils. Others I had known had aged with undue rapidity under the strain. Still others, excellent civil servants, reaped little success in Parliament. Was I to give up my attractive Swiss projects for so hazardous a charge?
My doubts were not to last long. It was made abundantly clear that preferences would have to make way for duty. A week after saying goodbye to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, I was back again as its head--not without courage, but filled with dark forebodings. Above Europe the clouds were rapidly gathering.
German relations with Poland, and therefore with France and Britain, were going from bad to worse. The new Dutch Government was at once filled with serious misgivings with regard to the trend of affairs in Europe. Foreign affairs loomed large in its daily preoccupations. Acting under the inspiring leadership of the Queen, the Government strove hard to leave nothing undone that might avert disaster. At the same time all measures were taken so as to be ready if the worst should happen. In Belgium, King Leopold and his Ministers were acting on similar lines. After consultation with the Dutch Government, the Government of Belgium took a first step, in the
hope that this initiative might lead to a peaceful solution. It was expected at least to ease the tension so that friendly negotiations might be possible between the powers engaged in what seemed to have become a dispute of an acutely dangerous character. Realizing that a major armed conflict in Europe would gravely endanger the peaceful existence and the economic welfare of the smaller European states and guided by the wish to leave no stone unturned to preserve peace, the Government in Brussels issued invitations to those of Holland, Denmark, Finland, Luxemburg, Norway, and Sweden for a conference to be held in the Belgian capital, in order to discuss what might be done to influence the course of events. As a result, the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of those countries met in Brussels on August 23rd. Switzerland, too, would have been welcomed at the conference, but the Federal Council had let it be known that the scrupulous policy of perpetual neutrality resulting from Switzerland's international status prevented that country from taking part, in spite of its sympathy for the cause at stake.
There was something profoundly moving, even dramatic, about this gathering. The able Belgian Premier, M. Pierlot, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Spaak, a man of transparent honesty and steadfastness of purpose, acted as hosts. There was Mr. Munch, the Danish Foreign Minister, aged in the pursuit of a policy of almost complete disarmament, which he firmly believed to be the only one open to his country; Mr. Bech, for so many
years at the head of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg's foreign ministry; Mr. Koht, from Norway, his grave and somewhat ascetic mien recalling some character of one of Ibsen's dramas; the resourceful and energetic personality of Mr. Sandler, King Gustav's Minister for Foreign Affairs; the Finnish representative, tall, broad-shouldered Mr. Erkko, whose country then still seemed so.safe and yet was to be engaged in a heroic struggle with the Bolshevik hordes before the year was out; and finally, myself. All these men had only one thought in mind: to do all in their power to prevent war from breaking out. They had the profound conviction that the result they sought to attain was the best that could be desired for Europe. Theirs was a voice crying and praying for peace. But at the same time their hearts were filled with fear, for the clouds darkening the horizon were blacker than ever. Inexorable fate against human hope and endeavor-tragedy seemed imminent.
It became clear to these men that ambitious schemes would be of no avail and were doomed to failure. The conference came to the conclusion that an urgent appeal, addressed by the King of the Belgians in his own name and in the name of the other heads of State represented at the conference, was all it could usefully propose. The text of this appeal was drawn up and submitted to the King's approval; that evening King Leopold, surrounded by the members of the conference, representing
seven small peace-loving European nations, broadcast the following appeal from the royal palace in Brussels:
"Armies are gathering for a horrible struggle which will know neither victor nor vanquished. Public opinion in all countries is alarmed. That is why, in the name of His Majesty the King of Denmark, the President of the Republic of Finland, Her Royal Highness the Grand Duchess of Luxemburg, His Majesty the King of Norway, Her Majesty the Queen of Holland, and His Majesty the King of Sweden, and in my own name, each of us acting in agreement with his Government, I issue this appeal. We express the hope that the other heads of States will add their voices to ours in the same hope of peace and security for their peoples.
"The world is living in such a period of tension that there is a risk that all international cooperation should become impossible. The small countries are faced with the fear of a conflict into which they might be dragged in spite of their will to maintain their neutrality and their independence. Lack of confidence reigns everywhere. But there is no people which wants to send its children to their deaths. All the States have the same interest. Time is getting short. If we wait much longer it will become more difficult to make direct contacts.
"We want peace with respect for the rights of all nations. It is our wish that the differences between nations should be submitted to conciliation in a spirit of good
will. Tomorrow hundreds of millions of people will be hoping that the differences which separate heads of States may be settled by means of conciliation. Let those in whose hands rests the destiny of the peoples apply themselves to settle peacefully the differences which separate them."
Early next morning those who had taken part in the conference hurriedly undertook the return journey to their respective capitals. It was an extraordinary departure: dense thunderclouds had settled like a pall over Brussels. Lightning streaked the skies in every direction; peal after peal of thunder, burst upon our ears. The center of the storm seemed to be all around us in the very streets of the city; in less than no time a cloudburst had flooded its lower-lying parts. In this deluge, reminiscent of some ancient cataclysm, my secretary and I set forth by car for The Hague. At moments it became impossible to see more than fifty yards ahead. Fiercely the storm raged; it seemed a portent of what was to come a fortnight later.
Two days passed. The tension in Europe was increasing daily. On Saturday, August 26th, the German Minister asked whether I could receive him the same day; he had an urgent message from his Government to transmit. I saw him without delay, and this was the message he had been instructed to deliver:
"We are resolved to observe towards the Netherlands an attitude according to which, in conformity with the traditional friendly relations between the two countries
and with due regard for the well-known Netherlands policy of independence, the inviolability and integrity of the Netherlands will in no circumstances be infringed upon, and Dutch territory will at all times be respected. On the other hand, we on our side expect, as a matter of course, that the Netherlands will, in case of an armed conflict, observe towards us an attitude of absolute neutrality. Above all other things, this implies that Holland, contrary to tolerating any infringement by third parties on her neutrality, would resist any such violation with all the means at her disposal. If, however, contrary to our expectations, the attitude of the Netherlands towards any such violation of her neutrality were to be different, it goes without saying that we should be obliged to safeguard our interests as dictated by the situation which then would have arisen."
On the face of it, this seemed a reassuring message with regard to the Netherlands. At the same time it implied very clearly that Germany, if not actually planning to provoke an armed conflict, was counting on one breaking out. On closer scrutiny, however, it could be seen to contain loopholes of the kind characteristic of Nazi diplomatic documents. What, in fact, would have to be considered as an "infringement by third parties on Holland's neutrality"? Would it be enough for Germany to assert that such an infringement had taken place, to justify her-- even if to an impartial observer there were no infringement at all--in taking measures of violence against the Netherlands? Events later showed that the German
subterfuge was even thinner than that. When Hitler was about to invade Holland, he did not allege that there had been an infringement of Holland's neutrality, but merely that he knew that some form of impinging on that neutrality was about to materialize, and that the Government of the Netherlands was aware of this.
It was clearly a case in which any question as to the real meaning of this ambiguous phraseology would have been left unanswered, unless some evasive answer were given. I therefore accepted the German Minister's statement without any questioning. He then proceeded to inform me that, in order to give these German assurances greater solemnity, he had been instructed to request that he should be allowed to repeat them to the Queen in person.
I could see only advantages in acceding to this request, in so far as that depended on me. If ever Germany, under some pretext or other, decided to violate our neutrality, this violation would be all the more serious if the alleged will to respect our position would have been solemnly pledged in the Queen's presence. I therefore at once asked whether Her Majesty was prepared to see Count von Zech. The reply being in the affirmative, the German Minister was received by Her Majesty in my presence. I remember those few minutes very clearly. Her Majesty sat motionless while the German diplomat once more read the text he had been instructed to convey. When he had finished, the Queen made no comment but merely
said that she had taken cognizance of the message, and after engaging Count von Zech in conversation for a few minutes, brought the audience to an end. This interview left me full of uncomfortable forebodings.
Less than a week later, on the first of September, the British Minister handed me a declaration of a similar nature from his Government, in which the absence of circumlocution and qualifying terms made a happier impression:
"If in the event of a European war the Netherlands adopt an attitude of neutrality, His Majesty's Government will, in accordance with their traditional policy, be resolutely determined to respect this neutrality fully, provided that it is respected by other Powers."
France never made a declaration of that nature. This was a reason for the Dutch Nazis to take me severely to task in their daily paper for not having obtained such a statement. I decided not to reply lest I should do them too much honor. Two months later, however, when one of the few Nazi members of Parliament censured the Government, and me in particular, for the same reason, I reminded them of the fact that Belgium is situated between France and the Netherlands, and that therefore, since Belgium had obtained from France a promise of inviolability, the honorable member seemed to be victim to some strange confusion. Either this Nazi member believed in the value of France's assurance to Belgium and its corollary, that France would never undertake
anything against Holland, or he had no faith in that promise. In the latter case, how could he attach any importance to a promise of the same kind made by the same power to Holland? This brought the discussion to a close.
When the appeal of the smaller European states, launched by the King of Belgium at Brussels on August 23rd, met with no response, Queen Wilhelmina and King Leopold, with the concurrence of their Governments, took a second step in order to leave nothing in their power undone which might possibly prevent an armed conflict from breaking out. Rapid consultations took place between Brussels and The Hague.
In the evening of August 28, the diplomatic representatives of Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, and Poland were invited, in Brussels by my Belgian colleague, Mr. Spaak, and at The Hague by myself, to receive a communication. It was about midnight when I received the diplomats who had been summoned to the Foreign Office. I received them one by one, and told them that the Queen and the King of Belgium were prepared, if the powers to whom the communication was addressed should wish it, jointly to lend their good offices in order to effect a rapprochement between the prospective parties to a conflict.
Neither in Holland nor in Belgium did this offer receive any publicity at the time, so that initial discussions would not be hampered. The first press report concerning the offer came from abroad, where the initiative of
the two Sovereigns met with little more than polite appreciation. If, alas, they were unable to prevent war from breaking out, there is no doubt that by making this offer the Queen and King Leopold did everything in their power to save peace. Their conscience and that of their ministers could be at rest.
While preparing to be ready for any emergency of war, we were determined at The Hague to leave nothing undone that could promote a return to peaceful conditions, and this determination naturally was stronger than ever when there was reason to reckon with an imminent danger for our own country. On Sunday, November 5th, I was granted an audience by the Queen, and placed before Her Majesty the idea of renewing to the belligerents the offer of good offices previously made in August, just before the outbreak of war. The Queen received the idea favorably, and arrangements were made at once to enlist the cooperation of the Belgians. As a result, King Leopold hastened to The Hague by car in the late evening of the following day, accompanied by Mr. Spaak. That same evening I made a first draft with my Belgian colleague of a new offer of good offices to the belligerents. The King remained at the Palace for the night, as did Mr. Spaak; their arrival had been observed by a journalist, so that it was widely known the next day and caused much speculation. A newspaperman questioned me as I left the Palace in the early hours of the morning, but of course I was not in a position to disclose anything as yet. Next
morning, the draft we had made was discussed with, and, after some alterations had been made, signed by, the two sovereigns. In the afternoon it was sent simultaneously to the King of England, the President of the French Republic, and the Chancellor of the German Reich, each in their own language. The text of that document read as follows:
"At this hour of anxiety for the whole world, before the war breaks out in Western Europe in all its violence, we have the conviction that it is our duty once again to raise our voice.
"Some time ago the belligerent parties declared that they would not be unwilling to examine a reasonable and well-founded basis for an equitable peace.
"It seems to us that in the present circumstances it is difficult for them to come into contact in order to state their standpoints with greater precision and to bring them nearer to one another.
"As Sovereigns of two neutral States, having good relations with all their neighbors, we are ready to offer them our good offices.
"If this were agreeable to them we are disposed, by every means at our disposal that they might care to suggest to us and in a spirit of friendly understanding, to facilitate the ascertaining of the elements of an agreement to be arrived at.
"This, it seems to us, is the task we have to fulfil for the good of our people and in the interests of the whole world.
"We hope that our offer will be accepted, and that thus a first step will be taken toward the establishment of a durable peace."
When the news of this new offer of good offices had become known, the Kings of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, as well as the President of Finland, at once signified their warm adhesion. Pope Pius XII telegraphed, giving his high spiritual authority to this joint plea for peace made by the monarchs of the Low Countries.
This was on Tuesday. A few days of anxious waiting followed. What would the answers be? Would the fact that the two Sovereigns of the Low Countries once more offered their assistance in bringing about a mutually acceptable settlement induce the Fuehrer to abandon such plans as we must assume he was entertaining for invading Belgium and the Netherlands? Such indications as we received regarding Germany's immediate military intentions remained very disquieting. Tension was in the air, and it was in that atmosphere that I had to defend the estimates for the coming year for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. It gave me the occasion for publicly stating once again the firm determination of Holland to remain neutral. I made it clear at the same time that we would defend ourselves if attacked, so that nobody could count on an invasion being a military walk-over. Its favorable reception was a striking demonstration of the country's complete unity in its foreign policy and all its implications.
Very positive reports had by now come in to the effect that the German attack was to begin on Sunday morning, November 12th, at dawn. I assembled the heads of departments of the Foreign Ministry on Saturday afternoon, to discuss last measures with them. Every preparation had been made. Then, suddenly, messages began to come saying that something seemed to have changed in the plans of the German leaders. We looked at one another. Was the attack to be abandoned after all? After another hour of doubt and uncertainty, I left my office for home, where, at 5.30, the German Minister asked if he could see me at once. His face, as he came in, wore, if anything, an expression of relief. He showed me a telegram. It merely said that the renewed offer of good offices was receiving the earnest consideration of the German Government.
The tension was broken; the attack, if not abandoned, seemed at least to have been postponed. The dreaded Sunday morning dawned, but brought no invasion. What it did bring, were the answers from the King of Great Britain and the President of France. Both referred to previous public declarations of their statesmen in which the essential conditions for peace, so the telegrams said, had been sufficiently explained. Both gave to understand that it was for Germany to make known whether she was prepared to enter into those views. The British reply ended by saying that if the Sovereigns of the Low Countries were able to communicate any proposal from Germany
of such a character as to afford real prospects of meeting the Allied desires, the Governments of the British Empire would give them their most earnest consideration.
The German reply, which came four days later, and was conveyed orally by Herr von Ribbentrop to the diplomatic representatives of Holland and Belgium in Berlin, declared on behalf of the Chancellor that "after the brusque refusal of the offer of good offices by the French and British Governments, the German Government considered this offer as having lost its object."
Since there had been no question of any brusque refusal by President Lebrun or King George, it was clear that the Germans would have nothing to do with the proposal. This was stressed by the unusual form in which the German reply came. Hitler had spoken on October 6th, the door he had then opened almost imperceptibly had been closed again when nobody showed any desire to enter. Overtures by the Fuehrer are made once only. The prestige of a dictator seems to make this unavoidable. That, probably, is the reason why nothing came of the second offer of good offices. But even if it had only had the effect of postponing the attack on Holland planned for November 12th, it served a good purpose; for the defenses of Holland and Belgium were far less strong in the autumn than they were to be in May, 1940.
The November crisis was by no means the only one in the period of Holland's neutrality. Another serious alarm was given in January, 1940; this time it came from
Belgium. There, a German military plane, manned by two officers, had made a forced landing near the frontier. Immediately upon landing, they endeavored to destroy a bunch of papers they had with them. Their attempt was frustrated by Belgian soldiers, who took the documents into their custody. The Belgians showed considerable alarm. Strangely enough, the exact contents of these documents were known only to the King and a few of his most intimate military advisers. Whatever these contents were, the fact remained that all military precautions in Belgium were being taken once more with the greatest energy. A chief of the Army Staff was removed and another general put into his place; steps were taken to increase the powers of the military authorities. I This action by our southern neighbors puzzled us. We, on our side, had no indication that there was any imminent danger. The season seemed at its most unfavorable for any large-scale military operations. A long spell of frost, which had begun in December, still confined the country in its icy bounds and was particularly severe in Germany, where communications had become difficult. In addition to this, our Intelligence Service did not understand why the Belgians were so alarmed. Nevertheless, we decided to increase our vigilance to some extent in order to risk no chance of a surprise attack, but we left it at that. Nothing happened, and comparative quiet set in again. Life at The Hague was fairly normal in those days. If
it had not been for the ubiquitous military uniforms and the khaki knitting seen lying about in homes everywhere, there was little to remind one that a war was in progress. Some curious situations, however, arose in the social field, since it was naturally impossible to entertain German and Allied diplomats at the same time. Great care had to be taken when issuing invitations. When my wife and I held our New Year's reception--a traditional function for the Foreign Minister at The Hague--matters were so arranged that the Germans came during the first hour, and the Allied representatives during the second.
With the advent of spring, days grew longer, and the weather improved. Hitler's armies had scarcely moved during the long and exceptionally cold winter months. Could he be expected to play the waiting game forever? Experts in all countries agreed that Germany was not in a position to endure a long war. For her it was a matter of swift success, if she were to have a chance of winning. As the season grew more appropriate for active warfare, the chances of a violent campaign breaking out increased, and the dangers for the neutrals thereby became daily more acute.
Ominous signs were not lacking. Even before the invasion of Denmark and Norway (Sweden escaping only by the grace of Russia), the Dutch police arrested numerous German spies. Why should there be so much spying going on in the country, if the Germans had no evil intentions towards it? Strange things were observed. The
rear windows of the German school at The Hague had been pasted up with paper, but when the police searched it they discovered nothing. Since the outbreak of war there had been an abnormal increase in the staff of the German Legation, an increase far greater than that of the staff of any Allied Legation. What was the task allotted to all those Secretaries and clerks? One evening, the police were handed a large envelope. It was addressed to an office of the Nazi party in Berlin, and was obviously destined to be taken by messenger across the German frontier where it was to have been posted. Some careless person had lost it. The parcel was found near one of the buildings used by the German Legation. Since there was no sign of its having any diplomatic character, and as the address and the mode of transmission gave rise to suspicion, it was opened. The contents were amazing: they clearly proved that a man who had been an Attaché to the Legation for several years was the head of German military espionage in Holland. He appeared to have under him another man, whose identity was never revealed but who worked under the name of Jonathan, whose task it was to coordinate the data supplied to him by a number of spies, each of whom had a serial number corresponding to the same number given to some district of the Netherlands in which he was to operate. These spies obviously had been carefully trained and instructed, although it was clear that they were not all military men.
They described, in incredible detail, all they were able to discover in connection with the defense of Holland. They made surveys of fortified positions, inundations, trenches, cantonments, bunkers, in short everything that they could get any information about. They reported conversations overheard between young officers in some well-known restaurant. They talked with their landladies, their servants, or members of their families. These papers constituted an invaluable find for the Dutch authorities, and enabled them to round up a number of these spies, some of whom stated when tried that they had been terrorized in various ways into doing espionage work.
At the same time, however, this went to prove beyond doubt, that Germany was interested in our defenses to an extent which gave rise to the gravest misgivings. A complete list of the discoveries in this connection which were made in Holland, and against which immediate measures were taken with all possible despatch and energy, would be too long and too monotonous, moreover, to give here. The ultimate effect was for the Dutch Government to take an extreme measure of precaution. Towards the end of April, martial law was declared for the whole country. This gave the Government, and especially the military authorities, considerable powers, the exercise of which would normally have been against the Constitution. In order to track all subversive espionage, censorship on communications by mail, telephone, and
telegraph was imposed. The right to hold public gatherings and of habeas corpus were curtailed and other similar measures were enforced.
The military authorities were being kept constantly informed, in so far as they were not already informed through sources of their own. Although prospects looked very dark, we never for a moment thought of revealing what we knew to the Allies; experience goes to show that any rash communications of such a nature, made to third parties, always become known, and if that happened, the Germans would undoubtedly have charged us with a breach of neutrality. We would merely have played into their hands by any such imprudent action, the more so since it was doubtful what help the Allies could give us, especially at such short notice.
The Dutch diplomatic missions abroad, as well as our Intelligence Service, did their utmost to inform the Government as fully and as rapidly as lay in their power. What they reported was always interesting, sometimes more or less alarming, but never so far--except in the critical days of November, 1939--positive in announcing an imminent menace to the country's safety. On Saturday, the 4th of May, however, we quite unexpectedly obtained information to the effect that an invasion of the Netherlands might have to be reckoned with within the next few days.
This report, without giving certainty with regard to the date on which the attack was to be carried out, seemed very positive and came from a very reliable source. We
passed it on to be checked by other agents; next day, confirmation was received from another quarter, although equally indefinite about the exact date of the projected attack.
The German propaganda services of Dr. Goebbels in those days were trying to focus all attention on the telephone conversation which they alleged had taken place between the British Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain, and the head of the French Cabinet, M. Paul Reynaud, and according to which plans had been made in order to extend the theater of war by the 20th of May to southeastern Europe and the regions of the Mediterranean. On May the 9th--one day before Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg were invaded--the German press especially stressed the declarations made by Lord Halifax in the House of Lords concerning the reason why British troops had then been withdrawn from Norway, in the course of which he stated that this withdrawal had been decided upon in order to begin fresh operations elsewhere. This the Germans coupled with a remark made, so they said, by Mr. Duff Cooper, the British Minister of Information, from which they concluded that the Allies were again out to catch small neutral states in their nets, this time in the Balkans. It is worthy of note that the Netherlands and Belgium were not mentioned, which did not prevent the German papers from proclaiming the next day that according to their knowledge the Allies had been contemplating for a long time an attack on Germany
through Belgium and the Netherlands. Lack of logic and consistency have never troubled German propaganda much.
If there were any need for confirmation that diversion of attention was the aim of the German Government, the radio of the Reich provided all evidence that could possibly be required. Very striking was the completeness with which this feint was supported by Italy. Collaboration by the Italian radio extended even to those items which at the very last moment purported to reassure the Low Countries. Most active of all the axis stations, however, were the German transmitters. To give a specimen of the tricks used to divert attention from Germany's true aims, a broadcast made by the Deutschlandsender of May the 8th--two days before the invasion--taken at random, may be reported here:
"The revelation of British plans in southeast Europe has created such an impression on the respective nations that England's warmongers now resort to employing an equally dull and clumsy manoeuvre to divert their attention. To this effect they use American press agencies which spread the news that Holland is gravely threatened. It is the old method--'Catch the thief'--which is being employed here. Thus Associated Press reports having learned, from a highly reliable source, that two German armies were advancing on Holland from Bremen and Duesseldorf at such a speed that they would reach the frontiers shortly.
"We are in a position to state that the reliable source of this military nonsense is the British Ministry of Information. This British Ministry of Information has been so hard hit by the German revelations of the imminent Anglo-French intentions that a manoeuvre to distract attention has to be staged willy-nilly."
Dr. Goebbels has always excelled in finding scapegoats. For a long time, the Jews were the chief culprits. Thereafter the British Secret Service, the "international bankers," or the oil companies were guilty of everything. This time the British Ministry of Information was to blame.
The Netherlands Government never for a moment allowed themselves to be lulled into a feeling of security by such manoeuvres. Our sources of information, which we knew to be reliable, continued sending news of an alarming nature. Absolute certainty there was not; but then, Germany being what it is, under a highly centralized leadership, absolute certainty could hardly be expected. By putting two and two together, however, a composite picture was obtained which was enough to cause the most serious alarm. Even then, the Government did not warn the Allies: we wanted to be absolutely certain that a founded accusation could never be made against us for having secretly abandoned the neutrality we had so consistently observed. All we did, by way of precaution, in the direction of London and Paris, was to send sealed orders by courier to the heads of the Dutch Legations in those capitals, the contents of which were in no way
indicated to them, and which they were only to open on the receipt of a given code word.
It is a very curious fact that, in the course of the days immediately preceding the attack, the German military and air attaches at The Hague stated time and again that the military authorities in Berlin were unable to understand why the Netherlands Government was taking such extensive measures. Did they really know nothing? With the centralized leadership as it exists in Germany today, that is possible: subordinates are not informed until the last minute. Or was it deceit? Perhaps we shall never know.
On Wednesday, May the 8th, rumors were current in German circles in Berlin that the British Navy was preparing a landing on the Dutch coast. Since we had not the slightest indication to that effect, our Military Attaché in Berlin saw the head of a department in the German Army High Command who acted as liaison officer with the foreign military attaches in Berlin, and told him that the Netherlands Government had no reason whatsoever to be apprehensive of a British landing. Nevertheless, he added, all measures had been taken, both by sea and on land, to counteract any attempt at landing by armed force, adding that the Netherlands were perfectly able to maintain their neutrality themselves and that they were in no need of "protection" from any quarter. The German colonel replied that he quite understood this attitude, which he said fell completely into line with the
strict neutrality which the Netherlands had constantly observed. It is interesting to compare this declaration with the accusations of unneutrality which poured forth from the German Propaganda Ministry two days later, after the onslaught had begun.
As the storm relentlessly gathered force, all the measures, taken with great energy by the Dutch Government in close collaboration with all loyal citizens, were to be of no avail. The straightforward, impartial policy of neutrality which Holland had so rigidly observed, the efforts made to increase military preparedness, the struggle against espionage and subversive action--it was all to be in vain. Fate as interpreted by Germany had decreed otherwise.