The Pittsburgh Press (November 11, 1942)
Full text of Hitler’s letter to Pétain
London, England (UP) –
The text of Adolf Hitler’s letter to Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain follows:
Since the day when the state called upon me to direct the destinies of my people I have ceaselessly striven to improve our relations with France, even at the price of heavy sacrifices by Germany. All my efforts have proved futile. This is not my fault.
The declarations of war which Great Britain and France handed to Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, affected me profoundly, and the German people with me. Neither Britain nor France had any plausible motive for these declarations.
Notwithstanding the precipitous and disastrous issues for some resulting from this campaign, I decided it was essential to reopen a clear field for the establishment of a better European solidarity.
In this spirit I inserted into the armistice no clause which was contradictory to the idea which was announced in the preamble.
The German Reich did not at the moment take advantage of the weakness of France in order to indulge in extortions and has contented itself by requiring only what a victor in such circumstances is compelled to ask for, notably, to secure a guaranty that the armistice is not circumvented and effective conclusion of the war is guaranteed.
Finally, the Reich required that under no circumstances should the armistice suffer any modifications which might lead to disadvantages in Germany’s military position by actions of the former allies of France which would cause prolongation of the war.
At that time Germany did not impose any requirements in regard to the French navy.
She has not in any way infringed upon the sovereignty of France in her colonial empire.
In the hope of carrying the war to Europe Britain and America have since then commenced to occupy the western and northern African territories of France.
France, on her part, is not in a position to oppose these aggressions. Furthermore, Germany and Italy will not tolerate, in any event, termination of the armistice and the consequences this would bring in its train which would necessarily be to Germany’s and Italy’s disadvantage.
Thus, after receipt of certain information, Germany and Italy are left in no doubt whatsoever that the next step of Britain and America is directed toward Corsica and the south of France. In consequence of this the foundations of the armistice have ceased to exist, as France is no longer able to acquit herself vis-à-vis Germany and Italy.
The governments of Germany and Italy have agreed to take urgent measures designed to counteract as rapidly as possible continuation of the Anglo-American aggression.
These are the circumstances, and honor and regret at the same time compel me to inform you that in order to escape the danger which threatens us I have been obliged to confer with the Italian government and to give orders to my troops to traverse France by the most direct route in order to occupy the Mediterranean coast and to take part in its protection against the aggression which is imminent from the Anglo-American forces.
The behavior of a French general has namely forced me to take this line of conduct. This one, during his captivity, simulated illness, and on account of this some facilities were granted to him of which he took advantage in order to escape, contrary to the assurance I received regarding his pledge on his word of honor given to you, Marshal.
He decided not only to fight from now on against Germany in the services of the Anglo-Saxon nations, the authors of the aggression, but also against his own country.
Besides that, I have to inform you on this occasion, Marshal, that the action of the German troops is not directed against you, the Chief of State and venerable commander of the brave French soldiers during the last war, nor against the French government, nor against any Frenchmen who are desirous of peace and who above all fear that their country would become again a theater of war.
On this understanding I would like at the same time to give you the assurance that the entry of allied (German and Italian) troops into France is not directed against the French forces and that I keep hope of defending, shoulder to shoulder with them, Europe as well as the African possessions belonging to France against the coalition of the Anglo-Saxon powers.
Lastly, the entrance of allied [Axis] troops, is not directed against the French administration, which, I hope, will continue in its functions as in the past.
The only aim of our action is to prevent the situation now developing in North Africa from being reproduced on the coast of France.
In reference to the precautions to be taken in this sense, I feel responsible not only toward my people but also, in a larger sense, toward the whole of Europe, as the entry of this continent into a new state of war would bring the destruction of all European nations, and especially of European culture.
Besides that, allow me to give you the assurance, Marshal, that, as soon as the situation in the Mediterranean is improved to the point that it is no longer imperiling the interests of the Reich in maritime France, I have decided to withdraw immediately my troops inside the former line of demarcation.
Lastly, I would also like to give you the assurance, Marshal, that you and your government will be free to move without any limitations in the whole of France.
Actually, I have pronounced myself against the transfer of the French government to Versailles only because I feared that enemy propaganda would have pretended that you, Marshal, and your government had been deprived of your freedom and that, in consequence, you were no more in the position of fulfilling your task in these conditions.
Considering that, owing to the circumstances above stressed, the Reich and Italy have been forced, in order to safeguard the interests envisaged in the armistice conditions, to face the threat of the Anglo-Saxon nations, and, in consequence, to abolish the Reich frontier in France, the reason for keeping the seat of government in Vichy does not exist any more.
I have therefore taken the liberty of profiting by this moment to communicate with you on the abolition of the clause which has been in force since the armistice.
I can understand, Marshal, how bitter is the fate of your country. Allow me, however, to call your attention to the fate of my own people, compelled to wage for several years a war which had been forced upon them without any fault on their part and who now had to take the above cited decision under influence of the strongest necessities.
I express the hope that, not only from this reason, there will be no fresh bloodshed between France and Germany, but that, on the contrary, rapprochement of European peoples will be brought about by this step against the extracontinental disturbers of the peace.
Germany consequently has decided to defend, if possible shoulder to shoulder with French soldiers, the borders of your country.