Sunday, 8 July 2007
September 3rd 1939
Schmidt hurried across to the Chancellery, where most of the senior ministers and leading party members were crushed into the ante-room. He pushed his way through and into the study. Hitler was sitting at his desk, and Ribbentrop stood by the window. Both looked up expectantly, and listened as Schmidt slowly translated the ultimatum. When he had finished, there was complete silence. Hitler sat motionless, staring ahead. Finally, after what seemed to Schmidt like an age, he turned to Ribbentrop, who had remained standing by the window. 'What now?' he asked, with a savage look 'as though implying that his Foreign Minister had misled him about England's probable reaction.'
Ribbentrop answered quietly: 'I assume that the French will hand in a similar ultimatum within the hour.'
His duty done, Schmidt backed out of the room with some relief. In the ante-room he announced the news to the crowd. It was greeted once again with complete silence. 'Everywhere in the room,' Schmidt recalled, 'I saw looks of grave concern even amongst the lesser party people.' He noticed Goebbels standing in the corner, 'downcast and self-absorbed, looking like the proverbial drenched poodle'.
The silence was finally broken by Goering. 'If we lose this war,' he said, 'then God have mercy on us.'
From Anthony Read's "The Devil's Disciples".
Schmidt was a translator with the Foreign Ministry, more of his account here.
Ribbentrop (pictured above, centre, in August 1939) had insisted to Hitler that the British would not go to war over Poland.
Two days earler, as German forces were rolling across the Polish border, Hitler had driven through silent and deserted streets to the Kroll Opera House to address the Reichstag.