No. 21 NAI DFA 219/4
Berlin, 14 September 1939
It is still difficult to grasp that a great war is in progress, even after ten days of general hostilities. The population here had been more or less led to believe that there would be no war. Now that it has started, the blame is thrown on Germany's enemies, particularly Great Britain. France is regarded as Britain's dupe.
Food is strictly rationed, but the amounts available are at the moment quite adequate. I can speak from experience, as only today has the Foreign Office arranged that I be supplied with greater quantities than those laid down for the ordinary German citizen. The diplomatic missions were asked to send in estimates of their requirements. My requests have been satisfied in practically all details.
I am entitled to receive 300 litres of petrol per month. Permanent heads of mission receive double that amount. I think that 300 litres per month will well suffice – my car is a Ford V8 – as there is now little enticement to long journeys. The use of motor-cars by private persons has practically ceased. Persons who travel by car attract considerable attention, and usually unfavourable criticism.
Berlin and all other cities are 'blacked out' each night. Each house is required to have a cellar prepared for use during air-raids, and many houses have sandbags as protection against splinters and shrapnel. Most of the people have gas-masks. We are clearing out a cellar in the Legation, but we have not yet bought any sandbags, nor have any of us got gasmasks. If, however, events show that raiding aeroplanes can reach Berlin we shall have to obtain both sandbags and gasmasks. So far, there have been two alarms, but no enemy aircraft reached the city. Polish reports of air-raids on Berlin are ridiculous. On the second occasion, British raiders came as near to Berlin as Hanover, which is only about an hour's flying distance away.
The population has quickly adapted itself to the new circumstances. The average citizen feels that it is up to him to do his part, because if Germany loses the present struggle, she will emerge in a state of complete chaos, perhaps even worse than in 1918. It is a great mistake for the British to think, at least in the early stages of the war, that they can drive a wedge between the German Government and the people. The Germans make no secret of the fact that they have always regarded themselves as a soldier-nation. Adolf Hitler took full account of this when building up the National Socialist Party; he knows and understands his people. The man-in-the-street is profoundly and reverently thankful to him for having brought Germany once more to a position of military greatness. As long as I have been living here I have noticed that news-films showing units of the armed forces draw enthusiastic applause at all times.
The rapid advance of the German Army on the Eastern Front surprised everybody. It is as yet too early to judge whether the Polish withdrawal across the Vistula was in the nature of flight before the strong German forces or whether it was in reality a strategic retreat, as the Poles now claim. I understand from journalists of neutral countries that the Poles were guilty of indescribable barbarity in the German areas of West Prussia and Posen (the 'Corridor') before they retreated. Germans were murdered out of hand, and their bodies disfigured in an abominable way.
Great Britain is singled out as the 'villain of the piece' by the German propagandists. The attitude towards France is quite different – almost commiserating in fact. In the early days of the war many people had persuaded themselves that France would not come in at all. 'What', said they, 'do we want from France?
And what do they want from us? The Führer has already assured France that our frontier in the west has been fixed for all time. He would never have ordered the construction of the magnificent fortifications which we now have in the west if he felt that the frontier would eventually be pushed forward. How can it be said that we threaten France?'
It has now become obvious that France has every intention of taking part in the war. The hope is still encouraged that after the final defeat of Poland the British and French will retire gracefully, and will be glad to cut their losses.
It is prohibited by law to listen-in to foreign broadcasting stations. This law is rigidly observed, so that enemy attempts to reach the attention of the German people by wireless propaganda are without avail. I find it difficult to hear either Athlone or the new Irish experimental short-wave station distinctly. Most evenings they are both completely blotted out by interference from other stations. I can receive British and French stations quite well. My experience is that Italian and Russian stations are much the best for news. The stations in the belligerent countries devote so much time to propaganda that it is hardly worth while listening to them at all. The news-bulletins from Athlone are excellent, but, as I said before, I have difficulty in hearing them.
All theatres and places of amusement are still open, and life in Berlin is by no means unpleasant. As the city is hundreds of miles from the Western front, it has not been considered necessary to evacuate the population.
We Irish are extremely popular at the moment. Until the last moment there were doubts expressed as to whether we would come in on Great Britain's side. Once our position had been made clear, our neutrality was given full publicity over the wireless and in the newspapers. Disappointment was felt that the Union of South Africa joined the enemy front. That came as somewhat of a surprise, particularly to the members of the South African Legation here. So far as I could judge, the members of the Legation were, without exception, strongly in favour of neutrality.
I hope that we shall soon have a more direct way of communicating with you than that through Rome. Our activities are, of course, rather curtailed, but even so the closer touch we have with the Department the more satisfactory for all concerned.
[signed] W. Warnock
The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.
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