Kleist-Schmenzin traveled under an assumed name to London where he contacted several Conservative party leaders, including Sir Robert Vansittart, the German Foreign Office expert, as well as Winston Churchill. Perhaps also signaling Chamberlain’s government’s disconnect from reality, Kleist-Schmenzin had to convince Vansittart that Hitler was not controlled by war hawks within the Nazi Party. Rather Kleist-Schmenzin insisted, “the only extremist” relentless on the war was the Führer himself.
On August 28, Chamberlain received three separate reports of Kleist-Schmenzin’s overtures, most of them vocally from Churchill, who was always outspoken in his suspicion of Hitler and the dictator’s alleged expansionist plans for Europe. Chamberlain, who was not a fan of Churchill at this time, dismissed these reports. The British Prime Minister believed he could establish a personal, face-to-face relationship with Hitler that would prevent a war. Moreover, perhaps not unfairly, Chamberlain was skeptical of the prospects of a successful German military coup, comparing the Kleist-Schmenzin plot to the Jacobites of the 18th century who plotted unsuccessfully to bring the Stuart family back on the English throne.
On the same day as Chamberlain’s dismissal, Beck resigned from the German army and internal resistance against Hitler fell back into limbo before his 1944 assassination attempt on the Führer.
Lebensraum and Hitler’s expansionist vision
As mentioned earlier, on September 26, 1939, Hitler announced in Germany that the acquisition of the Sudetenland would be “the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe”. This set the stage for Chamberlain to take the Nazis at their word—hearing what he wanted to hear—and strike a deal that legally sanctioned Germany’s expansion in the eyes of the international community. As far as I know, no actual documents have been shared with Chamberlain or any other western European nation that black and white put Hitler’s grand vision for a war of conquest across Europe, à la MacGuffin in Munich: the brink of war. However, one could say that Britain and France should not have needed it. Churchill certainly argued that this was Hitler’s endgame.
The concept of “lebensraum” is mentioned in the secret document that Paul gives to Hugh in Munich, and this German concept of “living space” predates a still unified Germany. The term dates back to 1860 and in the early 20th century became a concept used by Imperial Germany to justify the need for colonialism, especially after Germany was nearly starved by Allied blockades during World War I. . Hitler first publicly used the term “lebensraum” in his 1925 manifesto Mein Kampf. In the text, Hitler devoted an entire chapter to “Eastern Orientation or Eastern Policy”, which emphasized the need for Germany to extend its borders eastward well beyond the border lines that existed before the First World War. Instead, Hitler foresaw the conquest of the eastern lands as an opportunity to create more land for a supposed surplus of German citizens, and an opportunity to seize resources that would theoretically prevent a blockade from starving the German people as he had done it during the Great War.
Under Hitler’s dictatorship, Germany annexed Austria in the spring of 1938, long before expanding into Czechoslovakia. Yet France and Britain took the Third Reich at its word that this would be the end of its expansionism. Within a year, that was proven wrong as the Nazis conquered the rest of a now shattered Czechoslovakia and began preparing for an invasion of Poland.