Birger Dahlerus

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Johan Birger Essen Dahlerus (February 6, 1891–March 8, 1957, Stockholm) was a Swedish businessman, amateur diplomat, and friend of Hermann Göring who tried through diplomatic channels to prevent the Second World War. His futile diplomatic efforts during the days preceding the German invasion of Poland in 1939 are sometimes called the Dahlerus Mission.

Biography[edit]

Birger Dahlerus was born in Stockholm in 1891. He had an excellent network of contacts of authoritative Englishmen and various leaders of the Third Reich,----e.g. his early acquaintance with Hermann Göring.

Close ties with Göring[edit]

Only after the failure of Dahlerus' efforts did the British Government bother to do a basic background check on him (on October 23). The results were rather amazing: it transpired that his wife was a German national who owned considerable farm property in Germany. Furthermore, the British Government was not aware that Göring had assisted in 1934 Dahlerus in obtaining a marriage permit or that Dahlerus had acted as guardian to Göring's son from his first marriage.[1]

Had these facts been known in advance, it is very likely that Dahlerus' offices would not have been accepted by the British, as his purported neutrality would have been greatly compromised by them.

The Dahlerus Mission[edit]

It had been known to the senior military personnel of the Third Reich, at least since the Military Conference of August 6, 1939 at Obersalzberg, that aggressive war between Greater Germany and the Western powers was imminent.[2] On August 7, 1939 Dahlerus arranged a meeting at his own house, near the Danish border in Schleswig-Holstein, between Göring and seven British businessmen.[3]

The businessmen attempted to persuade Göring that the British Government would stand by its treaty obligations to Poland, which obliged it to support the Polish Government in any conflict in which it became embroiled. Dahlerus believed that they had succeeded.[4] At the Nuremberg trials, the British prosecutor, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, was able to persuade the Swede that he had been badly misled by the German leaders. Clearly, the discussion had no effect on the policy and actions of the Third Reich.

On August 25, 1939, the British and Polish Governments converted the unilateral declaration of support offered by the British Government into a mutual assistance pact. On the same day Benito Mussolini wrote to Hitler to indicate that he would not be able at this time to declare war on the Western Powers.[5] Dahlerus, at this time, was acting as an intermediary between Göring and the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax.[6] Göring had summoned Dahlerus from Stockholm on the previous day, put him on an aircraft, and dispatched him to inform the British Government that Germany wanted an understanding with Great Britain. Halifax informed him that diplomatic channels were open and that his input was unnecessary.

Following a telephone conversation between himself and Göring, Dahlerus had a further conversation with Halifax on August 26. He persuaded the British Foreign Secretary to write a letter, couched in non-specific terms, indicating the desire of the British Government for peace and requesting a few days leeway in which to achieve it.[7]

On August 27 Dahlerus flew to London, and met Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax, Sir Horace Wilson and Sir Alexander Cadogan. He presented an offer, which included a proposal that Britain would agree to Germany offering to guarantee the borders of Poland, taking Danzig, and a referendum in the Polish corridor. This very modest proposal was nevertheless felt to be unacceptable, and that the Poles would fight rather than agree to it. It was agreed that Dahlerus would return to Berlin and report back with Hitler's reply.[8] Dahlerus had become so significant, according to his own testimony, that he felt able to advise the British Government that they should keep Ambassador Neville Henderson in London until the next day so that he could better react to Hitler's response.

On August 29, at a meeting with the German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Neville Henderson had been presented with a document containing sixteen points which Germany demanded that Poland agree to. Henderson said[9] that they were spoken too fast for him to understand, and that he was denied a written copy. On the following day, Dahlerus was given a copy of the sixteen points by Göring, and took them to Henderson. Henderson in turn dispatched him to Józef Lipski, the Polish ambassador, who had never heard of Dahlerus. As one of the sixteen points was that a Polish negotiator with full plenipotentiary powers should appear in Berlin before September 1, the Polish Government deemed the proposals unreasonable.

On August 31 Lipski was received by Ribbentrop. On being asked if he had come as a fully empowered delegate, and on stating that he had not, he was dismissed.[10] An intercepted copy of the telegram to Lipski, defining his powers, was given by Göring to Dahlerus to take to Henderson.

Dahlerus' next diplomatic effort before the onset of war occurred on the afternoon of the last day of peace. He proposed that Göring should again meet with Henderson, which he did at 5pm. Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes, counsellor and chargé d'affaires at the British embassy, was also present. His statement, presented at Nuremberg, describes the atmosphere as negative, and suggests Göring's confidence in the ability of Germany to crush Poland quickly.[11]

The Third Reich commenced land operations against Poland on September 1, 1939 at 04:45. At 08:00 Dahlerus met Göring, who informed him that the Poles had attacked Germany (sic) at Dirschau. Dahlerus, in his Nuremberg testimony, says that "I informed somebody that according to the information I had received the Poles had attacked, and they naturally wondered what was happening to me when I gave that information". Dahlerus also stated that "the Poles are sabotaging everything" and that he had "evidence they never meant to attempt to negotiate".[12]

Dahlerus telephoned London again at 12:30, and this time was put through to Cadogan. Cadogan, while being a committed anti-appeaser, was only the Under-Secretary of State, and Dahlerus insisted that his comments be submitted to the Cabinet. They duly were, and the answer given to the Swede was that negotiation was only possible on the basis of the immediate withdrawal of German forces from Polish territory.

The British and French Governments issued ultimata to the German Government on September 3, 1939. Dahlerus telephoned the British Foreign Office ten minutes before the British ultimatum expired, with a proposal that Göring should fly immediately to London for negotiations.[13]

Perhaps not surprisingly, the approach was rejected.


Activity after September 3[edit]

During early September he kept in touch with Göring by telephone. On September 10 Göring passed to him letters written by two RAF prisoners of war captured during a leaflet bombind raid, as a proof of his goodwill, which were duly passed on by Dahlerus to the Monson, the British Minister in Stockholm. Dahlerus said to Monson that Göring was "absolutely trustworthy". He also claimed to Monson that Hitler's popularity was declining.[14]

He then flew to Berlin where on September 26 he met with Göring and Hitler (so much for his claim that Göring was going over Hitler's head!).[15] At that meeting Göring and Hitler were completely intransigent, willing to only make peace on their own terms which meant keeping all their conquests and retaining a free hand in Eastern Europe.[16]

Although that by right should have been the end of the negotiation, Dahlerus then tried to represent, or rather misrepresent, to the British the Nazi position as showing signs of flexibility. He flew to London and was very cordially and hopefull received there. First he had a talk with Cadogan on September 28[17] and then on September 29 met with Chamberlain and Halifax themselves.[18]

Hitler's peace proposals, as presented by Dahlerus in a mellow form at the meeting amounted to: (i) a rump Poland in complete vassalage to Germany (ii) annexation to Germany of the old Reich territories in Poland (iii) Restoration of the lost German colonies or compensation for them (iv) a promise of no further aggression, subject to "suitable gurantees" (v) settlement of the Jewish question by using Poland "as a sink in which to empty the Jews".[19]

Even in this form the proposals were a non-starter and the British began losing interest in Dahlerus and his flurry of activity. As they indicated that no promises from Hitler would be trusted anymore, Dahlerus floated the idea of holding a German plebiscite to ratify the projected peace terms.[20]

However, Dahlerus no longer found a receptive audience in Britain for his projects and the reception of his subsequent efforts on October 4–5, October 11, and October 18–19 was considerably cooler. He was in fact denied a visa to come again to London to present "new" proposals from Göring or Hitler and faded into obscurity.[21]

Overall Assessment[edit]

Dahlerus made a number of further attempts to mediate between Britain and Nazi Germany, which he neglected to mention in his book. Essentially, Dahlerus tried to convince the British Government, that Göring was ready to do a deal with Britain behind Hitler's back. The implication was that Hitler would then be either made to acquiesce in the fait accomplit or somehow removed, to make room for a new government inspired by Göring.

This was a tissue of lies, as Göring all along the way kept Hitler thoroughly informed of his doings. In practice, Dahlerus was helping the Nazi leadership to dupe and confuse the British, in order to weaken their resolve and perhaps to compromise them into publicly accepting the possibility of peace without the Nazis relinquishing their gains and without the dismantling of the Nazi regime as such.

Whether Dahlerus was duped as well, mesmerized by taking what seemed to him a crucial role in world diplomacy, or was all along an accomplice to the Nazi attempt at deception, he played his role well and managed to confuse the British Government for a long time.

The details of Dahlerus' later moves (after September 3) were not publicly available during the Nuremburg trial and were only revealed when British archives were later de-classified [22]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Birger Dahlerus, Sista försöket : London - Berlin sommaren 1939, Stockholm : Norstedt, 1945 (English Translation: The Last Attempt, Introduction by Norman Birkett, Translation from Swedish by Alexandra Dick, 1946).\
  • Nicholas Bethell, The War Hitler Won: September 1939, Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1972.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Bethell, pp. 397-398
  2. ^ Unpublished diaries, General Franz Halder, Chief of Staff
  3. ^ David Irving - Göring 1989-2010 pp257
  4. ^ Nuremberg Trial testimony.
  5. ^ Ciano Diaries
  6. ^ Göring interrogation, Nuremberg Trials, 1945 August 26
  7. ^ Documents on British foreign Policy, Third series, Volume VII, p 283.
  8. ^ Documents on British Foreign Policy, Third series, Volume VII, p 287
  9. ^ Failure of a Mission, Neville Henderson
  10. ^ Lipski's final report, Polish White Book
  11. ^ Dahlerus testimony, Nuremberg trials, TMWC IX, pp470-471
  12. ^ DBrFP, VII, pp 474-5
  13. ^ DBrFP, VII, no 762, p537
  14. ^ Bethell, pp. 359-362
  15. ^ Bethell, p. 362
  16. ^ Bethell, p. 364
  17. ^ Bethell, p. 365
  18. ^ Bethell, p. 368
  19. ^ Bethell, p. 370
  20. ^ Bethell, pp. 370-2
  21. ^ Bethell, pp. 382-385 & pp. 394-397
  22. ^ Bethell, p. 359