George N. Shuster’s Conversation with Hilger

August 13, 1945

By George Nauman Shuster (1894-1977)

SOURCE CITATION: Shuster, George Nauman. “Conversation with HILGER.” Historical Interrogation Commission, War Department General Staff, G-2, Historical Branch, MID, August 13, 1945. Shuster Files, UD 27, Box 3, Folder: “Hilger, Gustav.” NARA RG 165: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, National Archives at College Park, MD.

Note: The original text of this report contains several misspellings (e.g., of names) and typographical errors that have been corrected here for legibility. No other changes have been made. Where full names or translations are known, they are provided in square brackets. See additional filing and reference information following the text.

The Treaty of Rapallo (April 16, 1922) was, in Hilger’s opinion, a sort of climax in Russo-German relations as determined by proximity and the outcome of World War I. On April 19, 1920, the two countries signed an agreement concerning prisoners of war; and during June, Hilger went to Moscow as German plenipotentiary. On July 7, 1920, a further agreement was reached concerning the status of heads of delegations representing the two countries. On May 6, 1921, a second agreement was signed, regulating personnel matters and making a modest beginning of economic relations. Behrendt now represented Germany; Aron Sheinman, a Georgian, represented Russia for a time. During September 1921, [Kurt] Wiedenfeld replaced Hilger. During his incumbency, the Rapallo Treaty was signed. It did not, in Hilger’s opinion, carry any military clauses. Brockdorff-Rantzau came to Moscow in 1922. He was motivated by resentment of France and desirous of working with Russia to counteract French hegemony. [Georgy] Chicherin and he became close friends. On Oct. 12, 1925, the Grosser Handelsvertrag [German: “Great Trade Contract,” i.e., English:The German-Russian Economic Agreement of 1925”]. This great treaty implemented the Rapallo Vertrag [German: “Treaty of Rapallo”].

By way of background, Hilger emphasized that Soviet policy at this time was dominated by an interest in internationalism. The orthodox Marxist position was that Communism could be established only in “ripe capitalist” countries and that Russia was Marxist only by reason of an historical accident. Therefore, the major objective was to seize power in western Europe. But by 1923, Communist revolution had broken down in Munich, Budapest, Hamburg, and Saxony. The conclusion was then drawn that Europe was not yet “ripe” and that accordingly, the emphasis should be on defense. A fear lest Soviet Russia be encircled and attacked became dominant. After Lenin’s death (but not because of it) this mood prevailed more and more. The Russians sought economic autarchy for military purposes. Their relations with Germany were good, but they mistrusted all, especially the German Social Democrats. When August Müller was proposed as Wiedenfeld’s successor, Moscow declared him persona non grata.

During this period numerous incidents reflected Russian feeling. In 1925, two German students were accused of a plot to poison Stalin and Trotsky. Because of the Cheka Trial, Stalin sought to implicate Hilger; and it was not until August that the matter was dropped. There followed the far more sensational Shakhty trial, involving German engineers accused of sabotage. Brockdorff-Rantzau fought hard against this trend, and concern with it may well have hastened his death. It was now clear that really cordial relations, in the sense in which Brockdorff-Rantzau understood the term, were not possible. From the German point of view, inability to control Communist agents was a complicating factor, and everybody knew that the German KPD was absolutely dependent on the Comintern.

Stalin succeeded Lenin because of his skill in managing the Party organization. Now he substituted “defense of the Russian state” for Trotsky’s “permanent revolution”. The Communist ideology was now propagated indirectly, and emphasis was placed on strengthening Russia. Through the Revolution, 25,000,000 farmers now owned the land. But such a system afforded no produce surpluses, such as had been earned by the large estates, and only such surpluses enabled Russia to exchange produce for manufactured goods and technical services. Therefore, after a temporary experiment with Kulaks, Stalin restored the large estates through enforced collectivization. This meant that he could use only the poorer farmers. The others were ruthlessly exterminated. But the end was achieved, and in other ways, Stalin proved a resolute manipulator. He could always succeed in blaming mishaps on others.

German relations, in so far as they were economic, developed very well. Dirksen was an excellent ambassador. German engineers were needed for the first 5 Year Plan, which ran until December 1932. Dirksen signed credit agreements with Germany. In 1931, 919.2 millions of marks were expended for German goods. On January 1, 1933, Russia owed Germany 1.2 milliards [i.e., 1.2 billion marks]. They always paid debts, wanting their credit to be good. But they extracted every penny from the citizenry, and their private stores were likewise extortion devices for securing foreign exchange.

There were minor military arrangements. Russian officers were trained in Germany; and in Lipetsk, German officers were permitted to experiment with military aircraft. The Germans were not, however, able to overcome Russian suspicion, so that this kind of cooperation could not develop. German diplomats and business representatives had just as little chance for private association with Russians as did other foreigners. Even the rise of Hitler did not alter the situation, because his first pronouncements were so moderate that the Russians were favorably impressed, though suspicious. After 1934, things became much more difficult.

[Herbert von] Dirksen stayed until 1933. He was a well-liked chief, though not as gifted a man as [Ulrich von] Brockdorff-Rantzau. He was succeeded by [Rudolf] Nadolny, who had served in St. Petersburg as a young man and wanted very much to serve in the Moscow Embassy. But he was very dissatisfied when his suggestions to Hitler came to nothing. His successor was Count [Friedrich-Werner Graf von der] Schulenburg, fairly well described in [Grégorie] Garfenco’s Préliminaires de la Guerre à L'Est. Everybody, even [U.S. Ambassador to Russia (1936-1938) Joseph] Davies, liked him. He was a diplomatic grand seigneur but “pulled no stars out of the sky.” But he managed to maneuver well in a most perilous situation.

During this time the Russians kept on asking: “Why this Hitler nonsense?” The officials read Mein Kampf assiduously and took it seriously. Russian and German officers broke off relations. Then the purge of 1937-1939 overcast Russian skies. German military men were not involved in this. [Mikhail] Tukhachevsky had certain Bonapartistic qualities which Stalin mistrusted. But the reasons for the purge, in Hilger’s opinion, was that Stalin, convinced that war with Germany was inevitable, decided to make his own position absolute. He wanted no ideological competitor, and was resolved to abandon all old Party slogans about the family, divorce, etc. Initiative was to be encouraged. Stalin may, indeed, have in this instance taken a leaf from Hitler’s 1934 book. Hilger says that he reported to Berlin quite freely that the purge was rooted in distrust of Germany. Meanwhile Litvinov’s policy of the security pacts was fostered, and an alliance with France was agreed upon.

Then suddenly on March 10, 1939, Stalin spoke at a Party Convocation and declared that there was no reason why antipathy between Russia and Germany should persist. This speech contained a malicious indirect reference to Britain. It also stressed Russian interest in the Baltic States, which Britain apparently had not been willing to concede. On May 3, 1939, Litvinov was dismissed. This meant that Stalin was either bringing pressure on the British or that he was dissatisfied with the progress of negotiations. Hitler saw an opportunity now to solve the Polish problem in his own style. The British diplomatic representatives called the Russians “damned treacherous blighters”.

Hitler now informed Russia through Schulenburg that he could not postpone a settlement with Poland. The ambassador was also instructed to go to the Kremlin and tell the Soviet Government that Germany was prepared to sign a non-aggression pact with Russia on the basis of the existing boundaries of both countries’ interest, and that Germany was ready to disavow its interests in the Baltic. When Schulenburg went to see Molotov with these proposals, he was astounded. This meeting took place during the early days of August. Molotov answered that proposals of such importance would have to be discussed with his government and that he would inform the German ambassador as soon as possible of the answer. Twenty-three minutes later, Schulenburg was called to the Kremlin. He was then told by Molotov that his government was ready to discuss the suggestions with Germany. Then Ribbentrop arrived to discuss the non-aggression pact. Bessarabia was discussed, and Ribbentrop assented to the Russian proposals. Bukovina was not discussed. Lithuania was to remain in the Germans orbit; the Polish boundary line was to be Vistula. Later on (between August 23 and Sept. 28) Stalin suggested that he would exchange the territory of Lublin for Lithuania, and the Germans assented. The only dispute was a German demand for Lemberg, on account of the oil in that region. Stalin offered 300,000 tons of oil from this province.

This was the Russian-German honeymoon. On Sept. 28, the “Friendship and Boundary Agreement” was signed; and during October, Ritter arrived to discuss the economic agreement. Stalin now wanted goods for goods (barter) but acceded to Germany some quotas of raw materials in advance, since it took longer to supply manufactured goods. Hilger saw Stalin for the first time at Ribbentrop’s reception, but thereafter he was accessible. He was very cautious about military undertakings, and didn’t march into Poland until the war was over from every practical point of view. As a matter of fact, the German army had crossed the line agreed upon, and called Moscow in order to find out what to do next. Then only did Stalin give the march order, and added that he had to protect White Russians and Ukrainians. The Russians promised some things meanwhile which they didn’t actually give—for instance, naval bases in the North.

The situation was extraordinarily good for the Germans. Hilger said that, in his own opinion and that of his colleagues, Stalin was no doubt playing a very realistic game. He felt that through his Polish venture Hitler was getting into serious conflict with Western Europe and that through this conflict Russia would at least gain time in which to consolidate its position. No doubt the Russians were greatly surprised by the speed of the German advance through Poland, and later on by the course of events in Western Europe.

When Hilger returned to Germany in October 1940, he believed firmly that Russo-German relations had been settled for many years. He was surprised to learn, in his own family, that many Germans considered the whole arrangement transitory. During November Molotov came to Berlin. The invitation was presented by Schulenburg and Hilger. On the 11th (Molotov stayed until the 19th), Molotov saw Ribbentrop, who said virtually the same things Hitler was to say on the next day. Ribbentrop declared that Britain was defeated, and that all that remained was for Russia and Germany to discuss the legacy. Ribbentrop added that access to the sea was a legitimate Russian aspiration and that no doubt Moscow would seek that outlet in the East. Molotov was rather non-committal about such proposals, but on the next day made certain concrete proposals.

Molotov asked the following questions, after indicating that possibly the Russo-German treaties might need improvement: Why were German troops in Finland, supposedly with the Russian sphere of influence? Why did Germany deem it necessary to offer Rumania a boundary guarantee, and against whom was that guarantee directed? Since the treaty between us provides for friendly consultation, why does not Germany consult us on such matters at the Rumanian boundary question? What would be the attitude of the German government if Russia entered into a similar agreement with Bulgaria, which is in our sphere of influence? And what is the attitude of the German government toward the Dardanelles?

Hitler’s answers, according to Hilger, were vague and inconclusive. On the subject of Finland he declared that “he” had no political interests but was concerned with holding Petsamo, because of its nickel mines. His comment on the Romanian question stressed the negotiations with Hungary, and stated that in order to keep the Romanians in line it had been necessary to offer them something. Regarding Bulgaria, he stated that he would wish to discuss any proposals with Italy and Bulgaria. The Dardanelles, he added could be discussed later on. Molotov was visibly dissatisfied, and the meeting, though not stormy, was unsatisfactory and inconclusive.

Matters drifted. In April, Schulenburg, realizing that a state of war was imminent, prepared a memorandum outlining the advantages of the pact for Germany and stressing the military strength of Russia. In Berlin, however, he was induced to tone down this document by advisors who held that Hitler would toss the original aside without reading it. The effect was negligible. On April 30, Schulenburg told Hilger that the situation was hopeless.

Hilger believed in 1939 that Hitler had really changed the course of his policy. He maintained that the German Embassy in Moscow had tried hard to present a realistic impression of Russian strength. Even so, after war was declared, the situation would not have been hopeless if the Nazis had appointed intelligent persons to positions of responsibility in the Ukraine and White Russia.

There were submitted to him a few additional questions his answers to which are appended. [Such an appendix is missing from this copy of the report in NARA RG 165.]

Hilger was a first-rate German Foreign Office official.





Interviewer: [Blank] [Shuster, George Nauman]

Interrogator: [Blank]

Date: 13 August 1945

Place: [Blank]

Copies: 2 English

Subjects Covered: Conversation with HILGER

File: [Blank]

Received: Letter 30 August 1945

Stamped in Hist. Branch, 8 Sept. 1945

Remarks: 5 typed pages - (1 orig. & 1 carbon)



HISTORICAL BRANCH, MID {Military Intelligence Division}




1 – SAIC File

1 – USFET, G–2 Sec

2 – Historical Br, WDGS –G2

2 – Historical Commission File.