Eighty years ago, a milestone in Nazi road-building and mileposts in appeasement

Hitler addressed a lunch for 3,000 construction workers invited to celebrate the completion of the 3,000th kilometer of Autobahnen in Germany. The final stretched had been formally opened by Fritz Todt, the German construction supremo who had just published a hagiographic book on Hitler and the Autobahnnen. Hitler emphasised the part that the road programme had played in the elimination of unemployment and touched other economic themes as well. The massive programme of fortifications then under way, notably the Westwall (Siegfried Line to the British) along the frontier with France was part of the same quasi-Keynesian plan as well as a military necessity. Germany needed to be self-sufficient to be strong. The other power forbade her to have colonies.

Britain's civil defence chief, Sir John Anderson a civil servant lightly rebranded as a non-party politician, anounced a massive construction programme of air raid shelters. It was to cost the gigantic sum of £22m. The shelters were to be dispersed, close to homes and workplaces. He eschewed the "molelike" idea of large, deep communal shelters.

An opposition motion of censure on the government’s foreign policy gave Neville Chamberlain the opportunity to make a high-profile speech in its defence. It was closely analysed in both Berlin and Rome. The Germany press, in practice a register of government opinion, welcomed Chamberlain’s admission that Germany had been harshly treated under the Versailles Treaties but deplored his failure to praise Germany’s recent contribution to European peace. Chamberlain rather felt that his contribution here had been decisive but would doubtless have slipped in a kind word had he been given a hint it was desirable. Italian interest in the speech centred on anything it might say in advance of Chamberlain’s visit to Rome in January. The Italian government had not been pleased at a recent suggestions that the visit would be pointless if Italy continued her campaign for territorial concessions by France and was alert to any sign that Chamberlain might affirm British support for France over the issue. In the event Chamberlain restricted himself to friendly generalities.

The President of the Reichsbank Hjalmar Schacht brought an ingenious proposal to London under which Germany could raise a loan secured on the assets of Jews blocked in Germany. This would be used to fund their emigration. As Britain was bearing some of the cost of supporting refugees already, it did not appear a particularly equitable scheme. Schacht also appeared to more interested in fending off British attempts to subsidize its exporters to eastern Europe than to improve trade generally.

In the final few months of its existence the Spanish Republican government came up with a purge fully worthy of Stalin, who was now the dominant influence in Catalonia. It was claimed that a massive spy ring had been discovered, 200 of whose members had been sentenced to death another 200 to long terms of imprisonment. Their supposed offences included signalling to Nationalist bombers targets to attack. Lurking in the background was the savage measures being taken against anyone suspected of Trotskyism. Even in extremis the Spanish Communist party was more concerned to toe Moscow’s line than fight Franco.


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