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Albrecht Haushofer and the Secret Peace Talks

John Simkin

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While on holiday I have been researching the life of Albrecht Haushofer. It is a fascinating story and tells us a great deal about the peace negotiations with Germany that went onto right up to April 1945.

Albrecht Haushofer, the son of Karl Haushofer, was born in Munich on 7th January, 1903. His mother, Martha Mayer Doss, was the daughter of a Jewish merchant from Mannheim.

Albrecht studied at Munich University under his father, who taught geopolitics. Karl Haushofer developed the theory that the state is a biological organism which grows or contracts, and that in the struggle for space the strong countries take land from the weak.

A fellow student was Rudolf Hess who idolized Karl Haushofer. Hess wrote a prize-winning essay: How Must the Man be Constructed who will lead Germany back to her Old Heights? It included the following passage: "When necessity commands, he does not shrink from bloodshed... In order to reach his goal, he is prepared to trample on his closest friends."

In 1920 Rudolf Hess heard Adolf Hitler speak at a political meeting. Hess remarked: "Was this man a fool or was he the man who would save all Germany." Hess was one of the first people to join the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) and soon became a devoted follower and intimate friend of Hitler, who was also influenced by the teachings of Karl Haushofer.

In November, 1923, Rudolf Hess took part in the failed Beer Hall Putsch. Hess escaped and sought the help of Karl Haushofer. For a while he lived in Haushofer's home, Hartschimmelhof, in the Bavarian Alps. Later he was helped to escape to Austria. Hess was eventually arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison. While in Landsberg he helped Adolf Hitler write My Struggle (Mein Kampf). According to James Douglas-Hamilton (Motive for a Mission) Haushofer provided "Hitler with a formula and certain well-turned phrases which could be adapted, and which at a later stage suited the Nazis perfectly".

Albrecht Haushofer visited Rudolf Hess and Adolf Hitler in Landsberg Prison. After leaving university Albrecht became Secretary General of Germany's Society for Geography, and later editor of the Periodical of the Society of Geography. He also taught political geography in Berlin.

In 1931, Hess asked Haushofer to become his advisor on foreign affairs. He accepted the position but did not play an active role in the Nazi Party. Haushofer believed that it was vitally important that Germany avoided becoming involved in a European war. He wrote: "The peoples of Europe are in a position in which they have to get on together lest they all perish; and although one realises that it is not commonsense but emotional urges which govern the world, one must try to control such urges."

Rudolf Hess gradually worked his way up the Nazi hierarchy and in December 1932 Adolf Hitler appointed him head of the Central Political Committee and deputy leader of the party and minister without portfolio. As a result Haushofer became an important figure in Hitler's government.

Once in power Hitler began to express anti-Semitic ideas. Based on his readings of how blacks were denied civil rights in the southern states in America, Hitler attempted to make life so unpleasant for Jews in Germany that they would emigrate. The campaign started on 1st April, 1933, when a one-day boycott of Jewish-owned shops took place. Members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) picketed the shops to ensure the boycott was successful.

The hostility of towards Jews increased in Germany. This was reflected in the decision by many shops and restaurants not to serve the Jewish population. Placards saying "Jews not admitted" and "Jews enter this place at their own risk" began to appear all over Germany. In some parts of the country Jews were banned from public parks, swimming-pools and public transport.

Germans were also encouraged not to use Jewish doctors and lawyers. Jewish civil servants, teachers and those employed by the mass media were sacked. On 7th April 1933 the Nazi government passed the Civil Service Laws which excluded those of non-Aryan origin from public office within the Reich.

Albrecht Haushofer now became a second-class citizen because of his mother's Jewish father. However, in June 1933, Rudolf Hess intervened personally and issued a protective letter to Haushofer. Now an "honorary Aryan" this enabled him to continue working for the Nazi government.

Haushofer had serious doubts about continuing to work for the Nazi regime. He wrote to his parents on 27th July: "I sometimes ask myself how long we shall be able to carry the responsibility, which we bear and which gradually begins to turn into historical guilt or, at least, into complicity."

Adolf Hitler knew that both France and Britain were militarily stronger than Germany. However, he became convinced that they were unwilling to go to war. He therefore decided to break another aspect of the Treaty of Versailles by sending German troops into the Rhineland. Haushofer wrote a report warning of the dangers of expanding the Third Reich through the use of armed force.

The German generals were also against the plan, claiming that the French Army would win a victory in the military conflict that was bound to follow this action. Adolf Hitler ignored their advice and on 1st March, 1936, three German battalions marched into the Rhineland. The French government was horrified to find German troops on their border but were unwilling to take action without the support of the British. The British government argued against going to war over the issue and justified its position by claiming that "Germany was only marching into its own back yard." Hitler's gamble had come off and, full of confidence, he began to make plans to make Austria part of Germany (Anschluss).

In 1936 Albrecht Haushofer was sent by Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister, on a mission to Japan. The following year, Ribbentrop was given a similar task in China. Haushofer's reports argued that Ribbentrop should preach moderation to the Japanese.

Haushofer also attended the Olympic Games in Berlin in August 1936 and made contact with several members of the House of Commons including Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, Kenneth Lindsay and Jim Wedderburn. On 13th August, 1936, Albrecht Haushofer introduced Douglas-Hamilton to Herman Goering and General Erhard Milch, Chief of Staff of the German Air Force. During their discussion Milch told Douglas-Hamilton: "I feel we have a common enemy in Bolshevism."

In early 1937 Douglas Douglas-Hamilton wrote to Haushofer suggesting getting together. This took place on 23rd January, in Munich. His father, Karl Haushofer, also attended the meeting where they discussed the political situation. Haushofer told Douglas-Hamilton that "Hitler understands Churchill, but he will never understand Chamberlain."

In April 1938 Haushofer visited Britain and stayed with Douglas-Hamilton at his home Dungavel House in Scotland. Douglas-Hamilton attempted to arrange for Haushofer to meet with Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Secretary. However, Halifax was unavailable as he was on a visit to France.

On 26th June, 1938, Haushofer sent a report of his meetings with British politicians to Joachim von Ribbentrop stating that: "Britain has still not abandoned her search for chances of a settlement with Germany... A certain measure of pro-German sentiment has not yet disappeared among the British people; the Chamberlain-Halifax government sees its own future strongly tied to the achievement of a true settlement with Rome and Berlin (with a displacement of Soviet influence in Europe.)"

Adolf Hitler and Joachim von Ribbentrop had become very disillusioned with Haushofer's attempts to obtain a peace agreement with Britain and in July, 1938, he ceased to work for the government. However, he remained close to Rudolf Hess and continued to meet with those sympathetic to the Nazi government.

In September 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, met Adolf Hitler at his home in Berchtesgaden in Germany. Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia unless Britain supported Germany's plans to takeover the Sudetenland. After discussing the issue with the Edouard Daladier (France) and Eduard Benes (Czechoslovakia), Chamberlain informed Hitler that his proposals were unacceptable.

Hitler was in a difficult situation but he also knew that Britain and France were unwilling to go to war. He also thought it unlikely that these two countries would be keen to join up with the Soviet Union, whose communist system the western democracies hated more that Hitler's fascist dictatorship.

Benito Mussolini suggested to Hitler that one way of solving this issue was to hold a four-power conference of Germany, Britain, France and Italy. This would exclude both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, and therefore increasing the possibility of reaching an agreement and undermine the solidarity that was developing against Germany.

The meeting took place in Munich on 29th September, 1938. Desperate to avoid war, and anxious to avoid an alliance with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier agreed that Germany could have the Sudetenland. In return, Hitler promised not to make any further territorial demands in Europe.

On 29th September, 1938, Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier and Benito Mussolini signed the Munich Agreement which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany. When Eduard Benes, protested at this decision, Chamberlain told him that Britain would be unwilling to go to war over the issue of the Sudetenland.

The German Army marched into the Sudetenland on 1st October, 1938. As this area contained nearly all Czechoslovakia's mountain fortifications, she was no longer able to defend herself against further aggression.

From their meetings with Neville Chamberlain, the Nazi government had discovered that he would do anything to avoid military conflict. Chamberlain was aware of the appalling destruction that would take place during a modern war. He also feared that a large-scale war in Western Europe would weaken the countries involved to the point where they would be vulnerable to a communist takeover. Adolf Hitler told Albrecht Haushofer: "This fellow Chamberlain shook with fear when I uttered the word war. Don't tell me he is dangerous."

The pressure on Jews to leave Germany intensified. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Reinhard Heydrich organized a new programme designed to encourage Jews to emigrate. Crystal Night took place on 9th-10th November, 1938. Presented as a spontaneous reaction of the German people to the news that the German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, had been murdered by Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jewish refugee in Paris, the whole event was in fact organized by the NSDAP.

During Crystal Night over 7,500 Jewish shops were destroyed and 400 synagogues were burnt down. Ninety-one Jews were killed and an estimated 20,000 were sent to concentration camps. Up until this time these camps had been mainly for political prisoners. The only people who were punished for the crimes committed on Crystal Night were members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) who had raped Jewish women (they had broken the Nuremberg Laws on sexual intercourse between Aryans and Jews).

Albrecht Haushofer told his friend Fritz Hesse that "Hitler is now convinced that he can afford to do anything. Formerly he believed that we must have the maximum armaments because of the warlike menaces of the Powers striving to encircle us, but now he thinks that these Powers will crawl on all fours before him!" Haushofer added: "It's true that Hitler does not want war, but he is ready to risk it, and this, in my opinion, is a guarantee of disaster... We shall probably slither into the catastrophe we thought we had averted."

Haushofer continued to work behind the scenes in an attempt to persuade the British to accept a peace agreement. On 16th July, 1939, Haushofer wrote again to Douglas Douglas-Hamilton suggesting a way to avoid a war. Haushofer showed this letter to several members of the government including Winston Churchill. He replied that it was too late and that a war with Germany was inevitable.

In August 1939, a group of concentration camp prisoners were dressed in Polish uniforms, shot and then placed just inside the German border. Hitler claimed that Poland was attempting to invade Germany. On 1st September, 1939, the German Army was ordered into Poland.

Hitler, who wanted a series of localized wars, was surprised when Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany. Even after it happened he found it difficult to believe that during the first few months of the war he genuinely believed that Britain would still negotiate a peace settlement.

In 1940 Albrecht Haushofer gave up his job as Secretary-General of the Berlin Society for Geography but continued teaching at the University of Berlin. According to his friend, Fritz Hesse: "Haushofer called Hitler and his circle scum, his collaborators gangsters."

On 8th September, 1940, Albrecht Haushofer, wrote to the Douglas-Hamilton (now the Duke of Hamilton): "You... may find some significance in the fact that I am able to ask you whether you could find time to have a talk to me somewhere on the outskirts of Europe, perhaps in Portugal." Haushofer also referred to people who the German government believed wanted an "German-English agreement." This included Samuel Hoare and Rab Butler.

Two days later, Haushofer sent a letter to his father, Karl Haushofer. The letter discussed secret peace talks going on with Britain. Karl talked about “middlemen” such as Ian Hamilton (head of the British Legion), the Duke of Hamilton and Violet Roberts, the widow of Walter Roberts. The Roberts were very close to Stewart Menzies (Walter and Stewart had gone to school together). Violet Roberts was living in Lisbon in 1940. Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland were the four main places where these secret negotiations were taking place.

On 19th September, 1940, Haushofer wrote to Rudolf Hess about his letter to the Duke of Hamilton. He explained that Hamilton would find it difficult to fly to Portugal without the permission of Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Secretary and Archibald Sinclair, the Secretary of State for Air. Haushofer suggested that it would probably be better to work through Samuel Hoare but planned to send the letter via an old friend.

The letter was intercepted by MI5 and Hamilton was persuaded to work as a double-agent. Hamilton agreed to go to Lisbon to meet Haushofer. Colonel Tar Robertson, head of MI5's double agent section, wrote in April 1941: "Hamilton at the beginning of the war and still is a member of the community which sincerely believes that Great Britain will be willing to make peace with Germany provided the present regime in Germany were superseded by some reasonable form of government... He is a slow-witted man, but at the same time he gets there in the end; and I feel that if he is properly schooled before leaving for Lisbon he could do a very useful job of work."

In 1959, Heinrich Stahmer, Albrecht Haushofer’s agent in Spain, claimed that meetings between Samuel Hoare, Lord Halifax and Rudolf Hess took place in Spain and Portugal between February and April 1941. The Vichy press reported that Hess was in Spain on the weekend of 20/22 of April 1941. The correspondence between British Embassies and the Foreign Office are routinely released to the Public Record Office. However, all documents relating to the weekend of 20/22 April, 1941 at the Madrid Embassy are being held back and will not be released until 2017.

Karl Haushofer was arrested and interrogated by the Allies after the war. The British government has never released the documents that include details of these interviews. However, these interviews are in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) archive. Karl told his interviewers that Germany was involved in peace negotiations with Britain in 1940-41. In 1941 Albrecht was sent to Switzerland to meet Samuel Hoare (Lord Templewood) the British ambassador to Spain. This peace proposal included a willingness to “relinquish Norway, Denmark and France”. Karl goes onto say: “A larger meeting was to be held in Madrid. When my son returned, he was immediately called to Augsburg by Hess. A few days later Hess flew to England.”

On 10th May, 1941, Rudolf Hess flew a Me 110 to Scotland. According to his friend, Rainer Hildebrandt, Haushofer became very distressed when he discovered that the Hess peace initiative had ended in failure. As Haushofer knew the true details of the operation, he feared for his life and expected the same fate as Karlheinz Pintsch. He was right, and on 11th May, 1941, Adolf Hitler ordered the arrest of Haushofer.

The following day he was taken to Berchtesgaden and ordered to write a full report on what he knew about the reasons for Rudolf Hess flying to Scotland. Haushofer also outlined his contacts with people like the Duke of Hamilton, Samuel Hoare (Viscount Templewood), Lord Halifax and Alec Douglas-Home (Lord Dunglass) during these peace negotiations.

After reading Haushofer's report Hitler ordered that he should be sent to the Prince Albrecht Strasse Gestapo Prison in Berlin to be interrogated by Heinrich Mueller, the head of the Gestapo. Haushofer was released in July 1941. The reason for this is that Hitler believed that Haushofer could still play a key role in any future peace negotiations with Britain. Haushofer was kept under surveillance and Martin Bormann sent a letter to important figures in the media that: "Professor Albrecht Haushofer should no longer be given any publicity".

Irmegard Schnuhr, one of Haushofer's favourite students, was recruited by Heinrich Mueller to spy on him. However, she remained loyal to her tutor and only gave the Gestapo information that was first cleared by Haushofer. However, she was not the only spy used and it soon became clear that Haushofer was in contact with other opponents of the Nazi government including Ulrich von Hassell, Ludwig Beck, Helmuth von Moltke, Peter von Wartenburg and Carl Goerdeler.

On Sunday, 7th December, 1941, 105 high-level bombers, 135 dive-bombers and 81 fighter aircraft attacked the the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor. In two hours 18 warships, 188 aircraft and 2,403 servicemen were lost in the attack. Luckily, the navy's three aircraft carriers, Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga, were all at sea at the time. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan.

Soon afterwards, Irmegard Schnuhr was summoned by Adolf Hitler and asked her to discover what Haushofer's views were on the possibility of negotiating a peace with Britain. Haushofer told Schnuhr that Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, would make it impossible for any negotiations to get off the ground. Hitler replied that it "would be easy to sack Ribbentrop" if the British first sacked their Foreign Minister, Anthony Eden.

A group of anti-Nazis, including Claus von Stauffenberg, Wilhelm Canaris, Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster, Peter von Wartenburg, Henning von Tresckow, Friedrich Olbricht, Werner von Haeften, Fabian Schlabrendorff, Ludwig Beck and Erwin von Witzleben decided to assassinate Adolf Hitler (the July Plot). Haushofer was opposed to any attempt on Hitler's life because he did not believe it would bring an end to the war.

At least six attempts were aborted before Claus von Stauffenberg decided on trying again during a conference attended by Adolf Hitler on 20th July, 1944. It was decided to drop plans to kill Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler at the same time. Stauffenberg, who had never met Hitler before, carried the bomb in a briefcase and placed it on the floor while he left to make a phone-call. The bomb exploded killing four men in the hut. Hitler's right arm was badly injured but he survived the bomb blast.

Albrecht Haushofer immediately went into hiding but was arrested by the Gestapo on 7th December 1944. He was taken to Moabit Prison in the Lehrterstrasse, Berlin. For the next few weeks Haushofer was interrogated constantly. However, unlike the other conspirators, Haushofer was not executed.

A fellow prisoner, Eberhard Bethge, later claimed that this was because Hitler had the "intention to make use of Haushofer at a later date." Hitler and Himmler were both still hoping that they could use Haushofer to negotiate a peace deal with Britain and the United States. Haushofer was given special privileges and during this period he wrote what became known as the Moabite Sonnets.

Irmegard Schnuhr approached Karl Haushofer about the possibility of using his influence to get his son released from prison. He replied: "Why should I do that? He has betrayed his country and his people and deserves no help from me."

In February 1945, Heinrich Himmler explored the possibility of doing a deal that involved capitulating to the Western Allies but not to the Soviet Union. Winston Churchill and Harry Truman considered this offer but with the Red Army advancing on Berlin, it was not a realistic option. On 21st April 1945, Himmler instructed Heinrich Mueller to execute Albrecht Haushofer. This was carried out two days later.

It was decided not to prosecute Karl Haushofer at Nuremberg because it was decided that his role had only been "academic and advisory". On 11th March 1946, Karl and his wife committed suicide.

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As far as I know no one has written a biography of Haushofer. However, James Douglas-Hamilton was given access to the Haushofer papers when he was writing "Motive for a Mission". The main objective of the book is an attempt to clear his father, the Duke of Hamilton, of the charges that he was pro-Nazi. He of course does not mention the released MI5 files that show that he was involved in the 1930s with neo-Narzi organizations such as the Nordic League and the highly secret Right Club. Douglas-Hamilton makes use of the Haushofer papers to describe his attempts to reach a peace agreement with Britain between 1933 and 1945. It also explains why it was Hess who was sent to Britain (Haushofer was Hess' foreign policy advisor). The papers show that Haushofer also provided advice to Hitler throughout the war. The testimony of Irmegard Schnuhr, who was one of Haushofer's favourite students and was recruited by Heinrich Mueller to spy on him, is especially interesting. This includes her meeting with Adolf Hitler in December, 1941.



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