Hitler Dupes the Vatican/Chapter II
Yet the Vatican had already begun to smooth the path of Hitler's sordid ambition in another area of Europe: to undermine the loyalty of a large part of Czecho-Slovakia. In a lecture which I delivered in London in 1936 I predicted that when the conquest of Spain was completed the Nazis would turn to Czecho-Slovakia. Many of my audience in those day's of inglorious inactivity and childlike trust smiled, but although the country was not marked out for attack in Mein Kampf its fate, could easily be foreseen. Hitler's original ambition to make one empire of all German- speaking peoples, with the Ukraine for an additional granary, had grown mightily when he saw the cowardice and folly of the democracies, and Czecho-Slovakia stood like a second Gibraltar, a natural and formidable land-fortress across the route to Russia, the Balkans, and the East. It commanded the Danube, and it had within its own frontiers a very virile people with considerable resources.
But while Hitler made bravery the supreme Nordic quality and boasted in every speech of the irresistible might of the Reich, he preferred to proceed wherever possible by deceit. Not Thor, but Tocri, the cunning, is the head of the modern German pantheon. The world to be dominated and exploited must be taken over piecemeal and by ruse, guile, and corruption. Hitler had men, and especially women, steadily corrupting France for him, and he imagined that the tactless Ribbentrop, who had a stupid idea of the influence of the aristocracy in England, was winning or duping that country for him. In Austria he used the Church, as he had used it for what it was Worth in Spain, and he used it in Czecho-Slovakia.
The cutting-up of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire at Versailles had been crude and cruel, but it is a lie originating in Germany and quite generally accepted in Britain and America, that the Sudeten provinces of Czecho-Slovakia had then been detached from Austria and tacked on to Bohemia. Any map that was published before 1919 will show that these provinces are part of ancient Bohemia, which before the Catholic troops so mercilessly trampled on it in the Thirty Years War was the most promising of the smaller civilizations of Europe. Its sturdy people were instinctively anti- Papal and had raised the banner of Hus before Luther was born. In its exhausted condition it had been taken over by Austria and had been made compulsorily Catholic in the customary way.
It was still under Austria when the industrial development of the nineteenth century began and its splendid natural resources now gave promise of wealth. The mineral resources were in the mountainous fringe, nearest to Austria, which became familiar to us as the Sudeten province—taking their name from the mountains—and Austria, the dominant power, followed the policy which England had once followed in Ireland. Austrian and German capital and enterprise, using Czech labor, were to reap the profit. The Czechs were to remain the hewers of wood and drawers of water for the Viennese capitalist. It was in this way that the border provinces had been filled with a German-speaking Catholic population.
Until Nazism began its insidious propaganda in the countries which it meant to annex these Catholics of Austrian (and partly German) descent had lived quite amiably with the Czechs. The country as a whole was Catholic. I have pointed out how the reckless propaganda of recent years has in this respect run to a most absurd extreme. For several years our annuals and other reference-books have—see the World Almanac, for instance—said that the population of Czecho-Slovakia is 10,500,000 and then that it contains 16,831,636 Roman Catholics (besides 1,129,758 Protestants, 1,173,479 members of other religions, and 854,636 of no religion)! Catholic statistics exhibit many miracles but this is the choicest. If the last figure is changed into something more than 2,000,000—for 854,636 is the number of those who boldly wrote on the census-paper that they had no religion—it will be seen that Catholics really numbered about 8,000,000 in a total population of about 14,000,000, and half these Catholics were illiterate peasants and woodcutters.
Here you will begin to understand the action of the Black International in working for the destruction of Czecho-Slovakia. The creation of that republic—or the establishment of it, for it had already declared itself an independent republic—by Versailles was followed by internal developments which, year after year, caused consternation at the Vatican. Bordering on Russia the country was bound to feel in a high degree the wave of Communist and anti-religious propaganda which disturbed the Church everywhere, but there was an even worse danger, from the Roman point of view, in Czecho-Slovakia.
The reaction against Austria, which in spite of its fame for the amiability of its character had a grim record of tyranny, on the part of both Church and state, in Bohemia, there was a remarkable revolt against the Vatican. Almost at once (1920) a very large body of the priests and their people cut their connection with Rome and founded a national (Catholic) Czechoslovak Church. The very orthodox Irish Independent (August 13, 1938) said that "nearly a million people and 200 priests left the Church" in 1919 and 1920, that at the date of writing there was a painful shortage of priests in Bohemia and Moravia, and that a large part of the acting priests were of peasant extraction and of a low cultural and intellectual quality. The leading British Catholic weekly the Tablet (organ of the richer and better-educated Catholics) went further. In its issue of October 31, 1936 it had an article on religion in Czecho-Slovakia by a Catholic who had recently travelled in it. He had asked a priest about the report of secessions, and the priest had said:
"It is true, up to 1930 nearly 1,900,000 left the Church and, while about 150,000 joined the Protestant and Orthodox communities, the rest are without religion."
The Roman priests so hated their brethren who remained Catholic but threw off the yoke of the Vatican that this man lies in the latter part of his statement. At the census of 1930 the National Church of anti-Papal Catholics still had 793,385 members, though even more declared that they had no religion. In fact, there is no other country in the world in which nearly a million folk made this formal declaration in the census-paper.
This situation is the key to Papal policy in Czecho-Slovakia and, as Catholic writers try to defend the Vatican by asking what interest the Church had in helping Hitler in that country, it has to be thoroughly understood. There were nearly a million Catholics who refused to recognize the Pope; and the Vatican considers these "ichismaties" as dangerous and damned as atheists. There were more than 3,000,000 Socialists and Communists, since they had polled 1,700,000 votes at the last election, and there was the most powerful Rationalist body in the world. Catholic writers boast that in 1934 a great Catholic Congress was held at Prague and attended by 50,000 Catholics. They do not mention that in 1935 the Freethinkers held a Congress there and it was attended by 40,000 members. President Masaryk, the idol of the country and the most respected statesman in Europe, and several of the political and most of the cultural leaders, including the internationally famous novelist Karl Capek, were Freethinkers. In no other country in the world had the Church of Rome lost in ten years so high a proportion of its members; and the loss continued yearly. Bohemia, the care of the Republic, the center of culture and prosperity, was lost to Rome. A Thirlmere travelling in the country after 1930 would have said, "The Church knows that she is doomed."
As the government was deservedly popular and secured for the people a high and increasing prosperity there was no opportunity here of repeating the Spanish tragedy. The only feasible plan from the Vatican angle was to save the Sudeten Catholics at one end of the Republic and the very backward Slovak Catholics at the other from what Rome called the corrupting influence of Prague. This coincided with Hitler's policy, though we may admit that the Vatican did not foresee—very few people foresaw—that when Hitler got these detached on the plea of the self-determination of peoples and found the French and British so cowardly he would grab the lot and have a magnificent starting-point for his further advance. But we shall see that the Church was more active than ever in the second and greater grab.
This general coincidence of the interests of the Vatican with those of the Nazis is supported by undisputed evidence of cooperation. The Catholic writer in the Irish Independent whom I have quoted admitted that the priests interfered in polities, though in the Sudeten provinces the work was left to the laity. The priests were less ready than those of Austria to be drawn into the Nazi spider's web, especially when the Austrian Church began to suffer like the German, but Nazism spread amongst the laity in virtue of skilful German propaganda, and a local leader was found in the Catholic Henlein: the kind of puppet that the Germans liked to find—a man of poor intelligence and greatly flattered by being recognized in Berlin and promised's high position in the Sudeten provinces when they were "liberated," Henlein and his colleagues assured their fellow-Catholics that the Church had nothing to fear from Nazi rule. He had that promise from Hitler. In Germany, they said (quite falsely), Cardinal Faulhaber had provoked the Nazi government by his attacks on it. They would not do that in Sudetenland and would not be molested.
To the general public in America, to whom the word Slovak meant little more than the name of a tribe in Abyssinia, the whole question turned on the Sudeten provinces. To Hitler these were only the pretext of intervention, and a pretext in regard to which, by promoting a little friction and getting Goebbels to represent this as resentment of a bloody tyranny of the Czechs, he could make out something of a case. But shearing off this narrow fringe of German- speaking towns, which lay outside the Czech "Maginot Line," would not give him Czecho-Slovakia, so the anti-Czech agitation at the other end of the Republic, in Slovakia, was far more important. This was overwhelmingly the work of the Black International.
The core of the Republic was, as I said, Bolemia or Bohemia and Moravia, which worked together and reached a high degree of culture and prosperity. The Czechs who inhabited them were as able and vigorous as the urban populations of Germany, and, fearing that the Nazi wolf would sooner or later quarrel with them, they had a fine army and at Skoda one of the greatest armament-making works in Europe. But beyond Moravia, to the east, the country ran on to the Carpathian Mountains, and from its geographical conditions this large province remained very backward. This was the land of the Slovaks, and beyond it the country terminated in a still more backward mountainous area with a Ruthenian or Ukrainian population. The Czechs might have done well to hand the latter to the Ukrainians and let Soviet Russia civilize it as it had done with so many border provinces.
Czechs, Slovaks, and Ruthenians had declared themselves an independent republic in 1918, when Austria collapsed, and Versailles had confirmed their position. It was a lively team to drive, including 6,000,000 Czechs, 3,000,000 Slovaks, 3,000,000 Germans, and more than a million Magyars and Ruthenians, but as long as President Masaryk held the rein's and pre-nazi Germany was friendly the republic made remarkable progress. Its social and cultural achievements must be read elsewhere. In a land of powerful minorities there are always men who thrust themselves into the limelight by shrieking that the ancient culture of a particular minority is in danger of perishing and they must demand autonomy. They are blind to the changed conditions of a world in which small national units only excite the cupidity of more powerful neighbors. The clash, however, only found expression in the melodramatic fights of politicians until the, Nazis took up the grievances of the Sudeten Germans and the disintegration of the Church alarmed the Vatican.
The priests in Slovakia had long been associated with the patriotic movement in that province. The parallel with the situation in Ireland before it was granted Home Rule is close enough to enable anybody to understand. In Slovakia, however, the patriotic party was actually led by a priest, Father Hlinka, and was directly associated with Pacelli's policy. It is quite useless to talk about patriotic priests and the carefulness of the Vatican to avoid politic's, when the most sensational event of the year 1933 in Czecho-Slovakia was that the Papal Nuncio was expelled for just such interference. He had supported the Slovak claims in a letter which was published on August 13, 1933. We shall see later how the French in their own interest—disguised, of course, as a noble effort to secure peace—replied to the summons of the Vatican to help it against the government of Czecho-Slovakia, but the months of agitation over the expulsion of the Nuncio for political reasons and the great Catholic demonstration that followed in 1934 plainly identified the Vatican with the priest- controlled Slovak movement. In any case we are studying the action of the Black International and need not trouble always to detect the Roman strings that work the clerical puppets.
This clerical Slovak movement led in the end to the utter ruin of Czecho-Slovakia. This was after Munich, and we need not go fully into the events which led up to that ignoble surrender. The year 1938 opened with a fair degree of tranquillity in the Republic. There had been scandals and a serious split in the Sudeten body, and the coalition government was willing to make reasonable concessions to the Slovaks. They were represented by two parties in Prague, the Slovak Catholic party and the Slovak Centralists. The capital of the province, Bratislava, was a solid city sharing the culture of Prague, and large numbers of its citizens were opposed to the political priests and their hordes of ignorant peasants, and wild-eyed mountaineers. An amiable settlement seemed possible, but this Suited neither the ghouls of Berlin nor those of the Vatican. Hitler in February began the series of violent attacks on the Czecho-Slovak government, then headed by Benes, which were to prepare the German people for the opening of his aggressive campaign.
He was still within the framework of Mein Kampf, concerned only, he said, about the condition of German's outside as well as inside the Reich. There were 10,000,000 of them he said, living under oppression in Austria and the Sudeten provinces. We saw how he went on to annex Austria, and Benes easily proved that there was no persecution of Germans in Czecho-Slovakia. But Hitler's extraordinary success, thanks to the Church and the cowardice of the democracies in taking Austria without striking a blow most gravely confirmed him in his plan to take Czecho-Slovakia and broaden his base for a European war.
The Slovak Clerical withdrew their support of Benes and began to press for autonomy, and the Sudeten Catholics again raised their clamor. It was at this stage (March 14) that France and Russia gave an assurance of assistance to the Czechs in case they were attacked. Great Britain gave no pledge. The French later said that they relied on the cooperation of Britain in virtue of their treaty of mutual defence but this did not contemplate the eventuality of France provoking an German attack by going to the aid of a third power. The sound criticism of Britain at this stage is that its statesmen could not shake themselves free of their blind anti- Socialist zeal and see that the Axis had opened a career of aggression. A combination in 1938 of the British and French fleets and the armies of France, Russia, and Czecho-Slovakia might have spared the world the horrors of the great war. At all events the leading French paper, Le Temps, announced that the government had given the Czechs an assurance of help, and the Russian press told of a similar assurance from their side; an assurance that, unlike the French, they have always acknowledged and were ready to honor.
Germany at the same date, the middle of May, made one of its solemn and nauseously hypocritical announcements to the world to the effect that it had no designs on Czecho-Slovakia and only wanted justice for the 3,000,000 Germans who lived in it. A month later Henlein went to see Hitler in Germany, and at Carlsbad, on German soil, he formulated the demands of the Sudetens. They had, of course, grown remarkably larger since his interview with Hitler, but this is not the place to repeat in detail the course of events up to Munich. The darkest tragedy was that occupation of the whole country which was never contemplated at Munich, and this is the tragedy for which the Black International was plainly responsible.
Throughout the summer of 1938 the demands of the Sudeten Catholics grew. The Czech government made concession after concession, but Hitler did not want concessions. He wanted refusal and an excuse to invade. When his troops began in the late summer to concentrate in the direction of Czecho-Slovakia Britain sent Lord Runciman to find the bases of a compromise. Runciman was one of those who held that any development was better than an advance of Socialism and all that he did was to persuade the Czechs to talk nicely to the Nazi wolf and not think of provoking him. Mussolini helped out his gangster-friend by publishing in his own paper in Italy an open letter to Runciman which that apostle of peace probably took seriously. He assured Runciman that he knew from conversation with Hitler that he had no intention whatever of doing more than liberate the Sudeten fringe with 3,000,000 Germans. It was all part of the sordid plan, but there was still in England, or in the ruling class, a belief that Mussolini was not as unscrupulous as Hitler.
So Chamberlain went to Berchtesgaden and to Munich and dragged England into that policy of appeasement which will cost the world an incalculable number of billions of dollars and millions of lives, waste of precious wealth, and a load of suffering under which the planet reels. Had I been capable of weeping I would have wept at one picture of that ignoble time: Chamberlain stepping out of his plane at Croydon on his return from Munich. His face naively lit with a smile like that of a school-girl who has won an unexpected prize, he flourished a scrap of paper before the crowd and explained that he had Hitler's signature to a promise to keep the agreement and not further menace the peace of Europe! The interests of the Conservative Party had required that the fate of an Empire Should be entrusted to such a man, and he had had plenipotentiary power at Munich. He had at least the grace to die when he saw the sequel. The pious Halifax still represents the British Empire.
Another picture comes to hand. A journalist who was present at Munich, William L. Shirer, has just published his impressions (Berlin Diary). He describes Hitler walking past him on that fateful day:
"It was a very curious walk indeed. In the first place it was very ladylike. Dainty little steps. In the second place every few steps he cocked his right shoulder nervously, his left leg snapping up a he did so. I watched him closely as he came back past us. The same nervous tic. He had ugly black patches under his eyes. He was in a blue funk. If Britain and France had called his bluff there might have been no world-war. At least it would have been fought under very different conditions. And amongst the shower of congratulations to Chamberlain on his miserable surrender was a telegram from Cardinal Hinsley in the name of "the Catholic archbishops and bishops of England."