1920-1939 | Appeasing Hitler | Germany

Cabinet – not sending birthday greetings might offend Hitler

Nazi SS. troops parade through Berlin for Hitler’s birthday – April 1939.
Bundesarchiv – via Wikimedia.

19 April 1939

On 19 April 1939, the Cabinet deliberated over the correct diplomatic etiquette with regards to celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday, who would turn fifty the next day. The first issue raised was whether the British Charge d’Affaires in Berlin should offer a birthday present to the Fuhrer or at least join in a subscription which other diplomats were arranging. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, informed ministers that ‘the decision which had been finally taken on this matter was that our Charge d’Affaires should not subscribe, provided neither the ambassadors of France or the United States presented gifts. The obvious assumption was that if either did offer any tribute, then Britain might look diplomatically isolated by not participating in a similar act of deferential homage.  According to the minutes, no minister voiced any dissent to the foreign secretary’s suggestions.1

Halifax was, however, particularly nervous about the possible consequences of King George VI not sending birthday wishes to the Fuhrer.  He explained that it was ‘normal practice for the king to send birthday messages to a number of heads of state’ which had routinely included Adolf Hitler, although not the heads of states deemed of lesser importance, such as Poland and Czechoslovakia.  Halifax added that ‘he thought one very important consideration was the probable effect on Herr Hitler of the discontinuance of the normal birthday message, which he might well regard as a deliberate affront.’ Ministers agreed that in these circumstances Halifax should advise the king to telegram the following

‘Please accept Her Reichschancellor my congratulations on your fiftieth birthday.’2

Later the same day, Lord Halifax explained to parliament that the British Ambassador who had left Berlin shortly after the Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic in March, had not been withdrawn but had ‘merely been called to report’ and ‘to enjoy a short period of leave and that he would shortly be returning to his post ‘in the ordinary way.’  The chamber erupted in cheers at this news, but  in Washington, astonished State Department officials insisted that Hugh Wilson, the United States ambassador, would not be hurrying back to Berlin.  They had no plans to mirror Britain’s diplomatic birthday present for the Fuhrer.3

FOOTNOTES

  1. The National Archives CAB 23/98/11
  2. Ibid.
  3. Lord Halifax quoted in “Parliament,” The Times 20 April 1939 p. 7 and US State Department Officials quoted in “George VI Sends Congratulatory Message,” the Pittsburgh Press 20 April 1939 p. 6.

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