|FIRST IMPRESSIONS: MACKENZIE KING'S MEETING WITH ADOLF HITLER
Adolf Hitler was aided in his rise to power by his tremendous diplomatic skills and ability to convey sincerity. From 1933, when he became chancellor of Germany until the outbreak of war in 1939, Hitler was able to convince world leaders of Germany's right to rearm and to expand its national boundaries. Canada's own Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King was particularly impressed with the German dictator when they met for two hours in Berlin, Germany, on June 29, 1937.
Following are extracts from Mackenzie King's diary for the day of the meeting. As you read these extracts, remember that the atrocities of World War II had not yet happened. Consider the following questions:
What is Mackenzie King's assessment of Hitler?
What is it about Hitler that seems to have impressed Mackenzie King?
Is King conveniently ignoring aspects of the Nazi regime? Explain your answer.
When I was formally shown into the room in which Herr Hitler received me, he was facing the door as I went in he was wearing evening dress; came forward and shook hands; quietly and pleasantly said he was pleased to see me in Germany...
I told him I had been anxious to visit Germany...because I was most anxious to see the friendliest of relations existing between the peoples of the different countries...I spoke then of what I had seen of the constructive work of his regime, and said that I hoped that that work might continue. That nothing would be permitted to destroy that work. That is was bound to be followed in other countries to the great advantage of mankind. Hitler spoke modestly in reference to it, saying that Germany did not claim any proprietorship in what had been undertaken. They had accepted ideas regardless of the source from which they came, and sought to apply them if they were right...I said to him that I hoped it would be possible to get rid of the fear which was making nations suspicious of each other, and responsible for increases of armaments. That could only do harm in the end. That I was a man who hated expenditures for military purposes; that the Liberal Government in Canada all shared my view in that particular, that I had the longest majority a Prime Minister had had in Canada...Hitler nodded his head as much as to say that he understood. He then went on to say that in Germany, they had had to do some things which they, themselves, did not like....All our difficulties grew out of the enmity of the Treaty of Versailles, being held to the terms of that Treaty indefinitely made it necessary for us to do what we had done. He spoke of the advance into the Ruhr as being a apart of that assertion of Germany's position to save perpetual subjugation.
He went on to say, however, that now most of the Treaty of Versailles was out of the way, moves of the king would not be necessary any further. He went on to say so far as war is concerned, you need have no fear of war, at the instance of Germany. We have no desire for war: our people don't want war, and we don't want war.
In speaking about the Conference in England, I told him that I had been at the Conferences of 1923, and 1926, and this one, and had never seen the time when the felling towards Germany was more favorable and friendly than it was at this last Conference. That there were good things that many of the English could not understand, and did not like, but as for any desire to dislike Germany rather than to like her, to be on friendly terms, I could not discover that in conversation with the people or with the Government...
As I got up to go, Hitler reached over and took in his hands a red square box with a gold eagle on its cover, and taking it in his two hands, offered it to me, asked me to accept it in appreciation of my visit in Germany. At the same time, he said he had much enjoyed the talk we had had together, and thanked me for the visit. When I opened the cover of the box, I saw it was a beautifully silver mounted picture of himself, personally inscribed. I let him see that I was most appreciative of it, shook him by the hand, and thanked him warmly for it, saying that I greatly appreciated all that it expressed of his friendship, and would always deeply value this gift.....
To understand Hitler, one had to remember his limited opportunities in his early life, his imprisonment; et cetera....His face is much more pre-possessing than his pictures would give the impression of. It is not that of a fiery, over-strained nature, but of a calm, passive man, deeply and thoughtfully in earnest. His skin was smooth; his face did not represent lines of fatigue and weariness; his eyes impressed me most of all. There was a liquid quality about them which indicate keen perception and profound sympathy. He looked most direct at me in our talks together at the time save when he was speaking at length on any one subject; he then sat quite composed, and spoke straight ahead, not hesitation for a word, perfectly frankly, looking down occasionally toward the translator and occasionally toward myself.
Source: Adapted from William Lyon Mackenzie King Diary of 29 June 1937, Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada.