Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Berlin in Lights

The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler (1918-1937)

by Harry Kessler Edited by Charles Kessler Translated from German by Charles Kessler Introduction by Ian Buruma

“What distinguishes his diary is Kessler’s distanziert tone–its elegance, precision and shrewdness. The man who brought his gifts of mind to bear on the tragic carnival of his era was a distinguished prose writer.” –The New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 560
  • Publication Date January 23, 2002
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3839-2
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $20.00

About The Book

“Like Scott Fitzgerald, Kessler was an extraordinary observer of a giddy society that was weirdly out of kilter, sparkling, brilliant, yet constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Kessler’s Berlin is a bit like the Titanic; its people dancing on a wobbly deck, oblivious to the looming catastrophe. His awareness of doom lends a macabre quality to the descriptions of his extremely elegant life under the axe of history.”—from the introduction by Ian Buruma

“What fascinates us about Germany before Hitler is not just the cultural vitality—it was, of course, a period that brought forth the novels of Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse, the new music of Schoenberg and Hindemith, the pioneering films of Lang and Murnau, the experimental design of the Bauhaus—but also a combination of licentiousness and impending violence, a sense that this brittle and hysterical society will soon succumb to the perverse brutality of Nazism.

“Kessler was a writer of sharp perception and boundless curiosity. His restless and inquiring spirit brought him into contact with every aspect of German political and cultural life. He was a skilled diplomat, and something of an intriguer, but he was also a dedicated collector and patron of art; he was a distinguished publisher, but he was also an able writer, whose work ranged from a biography of Walther Rathenau to a ballet scenario for Richard Strauss. And he knew everyone, from Einstein to the Kaiser to Josephine Baker to Bernard Shaw to the now forgotten countesses who ornamented the best salons of Berlin, Paris, and London. Every time a shot was fired in the streets of Berlin—and a great many shots were fired—Kessler set out to find out what was happening, and to write it down in his diaries. Kessler created vivid portraits, he tells splendid stories—[his diaries are a] major document of a nation in crisis.”—Otto Friedrich


“What distinguishes his diary is Kessler’s distanziert tone–its elegance, precision and shrewdness. The man who brought his gifts of mind to bear on the tragic carnival of his era was a distinguished prose writer.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Every now and then, you meet exceptional diplomats. And occasionally, brilliant writers and intellectuals emerge in our midst. But we rarely find them combined in one person. Count Kessler appears to be a singular case indeed.” –The Jerusalem Post

“[Harry Kessler] was a diarist of genius. . . . [The diaries] document the high tide of modern art with an immediacy and intelligence that compel respect and a special kind of gratitude.” –News and Record

“His diaries, which begin with the Armistice of 1918 and end with his death in 1937, form a lens through which the turbulent Weimar years come vibrantly to life.” –Library Journal


Chapter One


Wednesday, 6 November 1918        Berlin

At eight in the morning a telephone call from Hatzfeldt. Last night the Cabinet did after all reach a decision about Pilsudski. Groener and Hoffmann concurred, though the Chancellor was not there and, the meeting over, everyone standing ready to leave. He is to be released, but is first to sign a statement drafted by General Hoffmann. I am to go to Magdeburg and induce him to agree to this text.

    With Hatzfeldt to the Chancellery, but the Chancellor not available. Spoke to Groener for only a moment and without mention of Pilsudski. Then Haeften took matters in hand officially. Mann, the Navy State Secretary, was meanwhile conferring with Ebert, the Social Democrat, at a small table in the imposing Congress Hall. Haeften was in a hurry because he had to see Hermann M’ller into an aeroplane for Hamburg, with which communications are severed. Scheidemann, in conversation with another `statesman’, stalked majestically through the apartments.

Oberndorff, whom I met on the stairs, called across to me that at five o’clock he leaves with Erzberger for French headquarters to hear the armistice conditions from Foch. The d”b”cle, capitulation and revolution is complete and in these surroundings, sacred to the memory of Bismarck since the days of the Congress of Berlin, as gripping as the Imperial coronation at Versailles fifty years ago. At the War Ministry we were told that the naval mutineers have seized Hamburg, L”beck, and Cuxhaven as well as Kiel. At Hamburg the soldiers have joined the sailors, forming a Red government. Reds are streaming with every train from Hamburg to Berlin. An uprising is expected here tonight. This morning the Russian Embassy was raided like a disreputable pot-house and Joffe, with his staff, deported. That puts paid to the Bolshevik centre in Berlin. But perhaps we shall yet call these people back.

Thursday, 7 November 1918        Magdeburg

This morning Schloessmann, the officer in charge of Pilsudski, came to me in great excitement because the Commanding Officer had sent him orders for the garrison to stand by. He thought – probably correctly – that this would simply upset the troops and render them the more likely to mutiny. He asked me to intervene. My mission, I replied, gives me not the slightest right to interfere with military measures. If, however, the Commanding Officer should want my private opinion, I would advise against taking any conspicuous precaution that is not absolutely necessary. Just then a call came through from Command Headquarters; the Commanding Officer wished to talk to me. I drove out there and heard that Hanover had fallen to the Reds. They have arrested the Commanding Officer and occupied the Headquarters. This afternoon a deputation of Red sailors is expected to reach Magdeburg, but Headquarters hopes to intercept them at the station. Though work continues, there is unrest at Krupp’s.

    The Commanding Officer, a cavalry general, fat, tired, back from the Front and not up to local conditions, sat slumped behind his desk. He had already rescinded his stand-by order at the suggestion of the chief of police. How, he inquired, do they handle these matters at Berlin? So far as I know, I said, by using as far as possible the workers themselves, in the form of the trade union and Social Democrat organizations, to maintain order. Pushing the workers forward is his intention too, he commented wearily, at the same time hinting that he will not be surprised to find himself under arrest by the revolutionaries before the day is out. Obviously neither he nor any of his officers to whom I have spoken has real confidence in the troops. As he has nothing at his disposal, he remarked dejectedly, with what is he supposed to crush an uprising? I could not help thinking of Li”ge in August 1914 when we also had nothing at our disposal and insurrection, followed by gruesome suppression, did occur. We must hope that we don’t now face that in Germany! Events at Kiel, L”beck, Altona, Hamburg and Hanover have as yet passed off fairly bloodlessly. That is the way all revolutions start. The thirst for blood grows gradually with the strains involved in setting up the new order.

    The soldiers in the streets here salute promptly and smartly. Their discipline has not so far suffered in public.

    The shape of the revolution is becoming clear: progressive encroachment, as by a patch of oil, by the mutinous sailors from the coast to the interior. Berlin is being isolated and will soon be only an island. It is the other way about from France: the provinces are carrying revolution to the capital. The sea sweeps down on the land, Viking strategy. Perhaps we shall become the spearhead, against our own wish, of the slaves’ revolt against Britain and American capitalism. Liebknecht as war-lord in the decisive battle and the Navy in the van.

Friday, 8 November 1918        Magdeburg

At five o’clock yesterday afternoon Ebert and Scheidemann, on behalf of the Social Democratic Party leadership, handed the Chancellor a declaration which included the demand that the Emperor’s abdication and the Crown Prince’s renunciation of his rights be effected by noon today. The Chancellor has gone to see the Emperor at General Headquarters.

    At half past eight this morning Schloessmann arrived with the information that rail traffic to Berlin is interrupted. I decided to take Pilsudski by car. Next came the news of demonstrations in the streets, with officers having their epaulettes torn off and their swords snatched from them. I requested the Command Transport Officer to let me have a military vehicle immediately. Because it was uncertain whether the Elbe bridges had already been seized or not, I arranged for it to be brought out of town and to wait for us on the far bank of the river while I fetched Pilsudski. Schloessmann and the Transport Officer changed into mufti to avoid molestation; I went at least so far as to borrow a civilian hat and coat. In this gear we made our way through side-streets to the citadel. Everything was quiet there as yet. Some two dozen men from the Convalescent Company lounged around the gate. In the guard-room the Duty NCO was asking for orders.

    We wasted no time and hurried across the courtyard to the building where Pilsudski and Colonel Sosnkowski had been confined. They were pacing the garden together, Pilsudski in Polish uniform, Sosnkowski in mufti. I expressed my pleasure at being able to tell them that they were free. My instructions, I added, were to convey them to Berlin so as to enable them to depart for Warsaw this very evening.

    Plaue and Brandenburg proved to be perfectly peaceful. Unrest did not show itself again until Wustermark. The village was all agog, with the railway embankment as the focal point of interest. A militia picket, drawn up just behind it, stopped us. An officer of hussars, in the middle of the militiamen, disclaimed all acquaintance with or responsibility for them. Two tightly packed trainloads of sailors, `deputations’, as the picket NCO explained, were passing through in the direction of Berlin. Nobody thought of stopping them.

Saturday, 9 November 1918        Berlin

The Emperor has abdicated. Revolution has won the day in Berlin.

    This morning, as I left home, I saw a soldier haranguing a crowd. That was in the forecourt of the Potsdam Station, alongside a machine-gun company drawn up ready for action. But between Friedrichstrasse and Unter den Linden everything was at this time (half past ten to eleven) quiet. I could go in uniform, unmolested, to the bank opposite the State Library.

    Dinner, with Hugo Simon and his wife, in the Cassirers’ dining-room although they were not at home. Schickele brought up the idea of using sailors to carry revolution to Alsace, proclaiming it a Red republic, and thereby saving it for the German nation. While he was talking we could hear and see, through the windows of the room at the back, the shooting that was going on in the neighbourhood of the Palace. Slow infantry fire, with individual shots lighting up the sky as they did during a quiet night at the Front. The Palace, we were told, was already in the hands of the revolutionaries, whereas the Imperial Stables was in part still held by officers and the Youth Defence Force.

    At ten o’clock with Kestenberg and Schickele to the Reichstag for discussion of the Alsace idea. In front of the main entrance, and in an arc of illumination provided by the headlights of several army vehicles, stood a crowd waiting for news. People pushed up the steps and through the doors. Soldiers with slung rifles and red badges checked everyone’s business. Kestenberg, using Haase’s name, had no trouble in gaining us admission. The scene inside was animated, with a continual movement up and down the stairs of sailors, armed civilians, women, and soldiers. The sailors looked healthy, fresh, neat and, most noticeable of all, very young; the soldiers old and war-worn, in faded uniforms and down-at-heel footwear, unshaven and unkempt, remnants of an army, a tragic picture of defeat. First we were directed to a party committee room where three young sailors, seated at a conference table and entrusted with the issue of arms permits, examined, approved, or rejected applications with all the seriousness and self-importance of schoolboys.

    We started looking for Haase. Groups of soldiers and sailors stood and lay about on the enormous red carpet and among the pillars of the lobby. Rifles had been stacked. Here and there some individual was stretched full length and asleep on a bench. It was like a film of the Russian Revolution, a scene from the Tauride Palace in Kerensky’s day. The door of the Council Chamber flew open. Whereas the lobby was comparatively dark, the light inside was glaring. My first reaction was what an ugly place it is. Never has it seemed to me less dignified and more like a gin-palace, this ridiculous neo-Gothic crate, bad imitation of an Augsburg chest. A multitude swarmed among the seats, a sort of popular assembly, soldiers without badges, sailors with slung rifles, women, all of them with red arm-bands, and a number of Reichstag members, Dittmann, Oskar Cohn, Vogtherr, D”umig, each surrounded by a small group. Haase stood bent over the Council table, hammering home a point to a young civilian who is said to be one of the principal Bolsheviks. We pushed forward and Schickele introduced me. The proposal for a sailors’ invasion of Alsace evidently came as no surprise to Haase. He discussed it briefly and suggested a conference for tomorrow. Then others demanded his attention.

    We forced our way out of the Council Chamber again and climbed two or three floors to a committee room where a woman, apparently the wife of a Reichstag member, was issuing identification papers. I received, on Kesternberg’s recommendation, a card according to which, as `bearer of this credential’, I am authorized `to maintain order and security in the streets of the city’. Signed Oskar Cohn, Vogtherr, Dittmann. I have become, so to speak, a policeman in the Red Guard. I was also given an identity card certifying on the part of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council that I am `trustworthy and free to pass’. Both identification papers carry the Reichstag stamp.

    Kestenberg and Schickele went home. On the strength of my new papers, I passed the barrier on the Potsdamer Platz and walked in the direction of the Palace, from which the sound of isolated shots still came. Leipziger Strasse was deserted, Friedrichstrasse fairly full of its usual habitu’s, Unter den Linden opposite the Opera in darkness. The Schinkel Guard Room was brilliantly lit, with clouds of smoke and lots of soldiers. The white stone figures of naked warriors and victory goddesses had the Schlossbr”cke to themselves. Lights burned brightly but desultorily in one or another part of the Palace; everything was quiet. Patrols all around; they challenged and let me through. In front of the Imperial Stables a good deal of splintered masonry. A sentry told me that `young rascals’ are still hidden in the Palace and the Stables. There are secret passages through which they disappear and re-appear. A couple of officers and a few loyalist soldiers were still firing from a house in the Enckestrasse. Some cars with armed men rushed over the Schlossbr”cke, were stopped, turned around, and sent off to Enckestrasse 4. Beyond the Schlossbr”cke again a barrier. At both corners of K”nigstrasse a skulking rabble in small packs which reassembled as often as the pickets broke them up. A sergeant said they were waiting for the chance to pillage; they must be cleared out. Slowly I made my way home.

    In the Leipzigerstrasse I encountered a fleeing crowd. Various people shouted that loyalist troops had arrived from Potsdam and shooting would start at any moment. I turned away into the Wilhelmstrasse but heard nothing. A few shots are supposed to have been fired in Potsdamer Platz about this time. It was close on one o’clock when I got home. So closes this first day of revolution which has witnessed in a few hours the downfall of the Hohenzollerns, the dissolution of the German Army, and the end of the old order of society in Germany. One of the most memorable and dreadful days in German history.

Sunday, 10 November 1918        Berlin

At the Cassirers. Discussion of the situation with Schickele and others. Most of them took a pessimistic view. The crucial point is whether the Liebknecht lot, and with them the Red terror, gains the day or whether the more moderate sector of the Social Democrats. Schickele thinks the Bolsheviks have already won and that Haase is taking an equivocal line. All efforts should therefore concentrate on keeping Haase and the right-wing Independents away from Bolshevism and engaging their sympathies for the Constituent National Assembly. While we talked, shooting was going on in the neighbourhood of the Reichstag. Apparently machine-gun fire. Later we heard that it occurred during a public meeting in front of the Bismarck Memorial.

    Dinner with the Schickeles at the Excelsior. Also at our table were his friend Dr Licktrig and Theodor D”ubler. Unless they exercise their option, Schickele will become a Frenchman and D”ubler an Italian. That alone, as applied to these two German writers, illustrates the complete nonsense and brittleness of the proposed peace terms. Schickele declared his firm intention of moving to Berlin, regardless of the fact that he does not like North Germany. None of them has anything but contempt for the Emperor who has done nothing except disfigure, and so ruin, the character of Prussia. There seems to be no question but that Germany will become a republic. The King of Saxony was deposed today. The Grand Duke of Hesse, Schickele said, is in protective custody. The composition of the new Government has considerably reassured Schickele and everyone else to whom I have spoken.

    The head of the Red Guard responsible for security in the Excelsior, a comrade belonging to Sailor Regiment No. 1, outlined his programme to me. It comprises obedience to the new Government, maintenance of peace and order, and opposition to any kind of violence, including pillage. He is a young man of twenty-three or -four and has taken part in the revolution since Kiel, a straightforward fellow who echoes the outlook of the vast majority of our revolutionaries. By and large the attitude of the people, despite the shootings, has during the first two days of the revolution been admirable: disciplined, calm, orderly, trying to be fair, and in practically every instance scrupulously well behaved. A counterpart to the readiness for self-sacrifice in August 1914. So great and tragic an experience, endured so bravely and with such purity of mind, must spiritually weld the nation into a metal of indestructible temper. If only its political instinct, something every Italian chestnut-seller has, were not so rare a phenomenon!

    The end of the evening provided a comic interlude. D”ubler had promised his sister, on account of danger in the streets, to stay the night in the hotel. When however he registered as `Austrian’, the manager vigorously declined to have him as a guest because as a `foreigner’ he has no identification papers. There was a scene until I, as a delegate of the Soldiers’ and Workers’ Council who on the score of my credentials am responsible for maintaining law and order, intervened and commanded the manager to keep D”ubler. The manager bowed in the good old Prussian way to discipline, even though of revolutionary origin, and allotted him a room. No more of sound and fury, servility alone remains.

Monday, 11 November 1918        Berlin

Today the dreadful armistice terms have been signed. Langwerth says that anything else was out of the question: our Front has cracked completely. The Emperor has fled to Holland.

Tuesday, 12 November 1918        Berlin

Spent the afternoon at the Reichstag in the quarters of the `New Fatherland League’. I agreed, at Kestenberg’s invitation, to join its executive. Clubs like the `New Fatherland League’, the `Activists’ (the group around Kurt Hiller), and so on, formed to discuss and decide important political questions beforehand, just as in the French Revolution, have taken over Reichstag committee-rooms and hold their sessions alongside the Soldiers’ and Workers’ Councils. Although entry to the Reichstag is now under strict control (it is impossible to get in without the Soldiers’ Council red pass), its appearance inside has not altered since the first night of the revolution except for the even greater accumulation of filth. Cigarette butts everywhere; waste paper, dust, and dirt from the streets litter the carpets. The corridors and lobby teem with armed civilians, soldiers and sailors. In the lobby rifles are piled on the carpet and sailors lounge in the easy chairs. The disorder is vast, but quiet reigns. The old attendants, in their parliamentary livery, flit about, helplessly and shyly, last relics of the former regime. The members of the bourgeois parties have completely disappeared.

    In the city everything is peaceful today and the factories are working again. Nothing has been heard of shootings. Noteworthy is that during the days of revolution the trams, irrespective of street-fighting, ran regularly. Nor did the electricity, water, or telephone services break down for a moment. The revolution never created more than an eddy in the ordinary life of the city which flowed calmly along on its customary course. Moreover, though there was so much shooting, there were remarkably few dead or wounded. The colossal, world-shaking upheaval has scurried across Berlin’s day-to-day life much like an incident in a crime film.

Wednesday, 13 November 1918        Berlin

At one o’clock I went to see Haase in the Chancellery. A large number of petitioners, in soft felt hats, waited in the lovely Empire vestibule. There never used to be such a throng. A little boy, acting as messenger, told me to go to the first floor. Several tail-coated attendants from former days continue to perform their duties there. I was last here a week ago, when Prince Max was still in charge, at the outset of the d”b”cle. Neglect of the place has made rapid strides since then. The riff-raft has moved in. The Congress Hall was empty except for a `man of letters’ with a red ribbon in his button-hole.

    Haase entered from one of the drawing-rooms to the left and led me in there. A small, insignificant-looking man with a friendly manner, he reminded me of Chlodwig Hohenlohe, in a Semitic version. He was sitting at Bismarck’s writing-desk, recognizable by its copper top. The topic of our conversation was the establishment of contacts with France, in particular about doing so right away with the French Socialists. Haase said that he would have best liked to go to Switzerland himself for this purpose, but at the moment it is not possible. The French know however that he was against hostilities even before August 1914 and conformed simply so as not to split Party unity. Schickele is to be in charge and I am to collaborate with him. The cultural contacts moreover, which lie in my hands, are extremely important. I told him that I shall of course gladly continue to place myself at his disposal, though prepared to withdraw at once if he or the new Government prefer someone else. Haase replied that he is very glad to have me and I am to visit him again before my departure.

    At five to Paul Cassirer and found Schickele there. They are leaving tonight for Switzerland via Munich. Cassirer dreads the danger of a reaction. The whole middle class, in his view, is already fed up with the revolution. The Potsdam regiments, who have elected their officers to the Soldiers’ Council, can easily turn everything upside down again. Both Schickele and Cassirer gave the impression of being peevish, reticent, and flustered.

Thursday, 14 November 1918        Berlin

This morning Hatzfeldt asked me to come for a discussion and, in the course of it, inquired whether I would accept the appointment of Minister at Warsaw. The Polish Government demands the recall of Lerchenfeld and Oettingen and the immediate nomination of a Minister. My main task would initially be to see that our troops are evacuated from Poland and the Ukraine. An extremely arduous and responsible task. I accepted.

    Immediately afterwards I ran into Erzberger. He drew me into his office and gave it as his opinion that I ought to remain here. This is the time when energetic personalities are needed, otherwise a peace treaty is out of the question. The Entente is not going to conclude any such thing with the present Government unless middle-class elements are included. He regretted his absence during the revolution, else no purely Socialist government would have been constituted. He again underestimates, as at the time of the abdication question, the leftward trend that the war has developed among us. His journey to French headquarters has left a very bad impression on him. The treatment was vile, with Foch icy and ineffably superior.

    Tea with Countess Bernstorff. Her husband, the Ambassador, and her daughter-in-law were there too. He is getting ready to go to The Hague for the peace negotiations.

    At one o’clock as I was walking down Unter den Linden, the Palace guard approached from the Brandenburger Tor, tramping to the strains of the Hohenfriedberg March, just as they used to do, but carrying revolutionary flags, the men without badges, the non-commissioned officers or file-markers with black-red-yellow Greater German armbands. The standard of marching was somewhat more sluggish than that of the Guards before the war, but tidy and entirely soldierly. A large crowd wearing red ribbons and armbands accompanied the detachment. On reaching the Passage, so badly damaged through the shooting during the days of the Revolution, the band played the song Es liegt eine Krone im gr”nen Rhein. It sounded like a funeral march and cut me to the quick. I thought of lost Alsace and the French left bank of the Rhine. How are our feelings about that ever to be salved? However fine the League of Nations may prove to be, this is a wound it can but perpetuate.

    Many soldiers are now wearing the black-white-red badge again above the red revolutionary one which has taken the place of the Prussian colours.

Friday, 15 November 1918        Berlin

At nine to Erzberger in the Budapester Strasse. I warned him against gravely shaking the position of the Government by forcing in representatives of the middle class. For the moment the main thing is to hold the front against the Spartacus group and, alongside that, preparation of the elections for the National Assembly. Erzberger heaped abuse on the cowardice of the middle classes and especially the officers, who did not offer the slightest resistance to the revolution. The Life Guards colonel who forbade the soldiers to open fire ought himself to be shot. Now at least it is not necessary to retreat before the Spartacus lot without a fight. As regards the peace preliminaries, he laid down the following principles: he wants to come to terms as fast as possible, perhaps within a week, in order to save the left bank of the Rhine from occupation. The right of occupation is valid only for the period of the armistice. To complete the peace preliminaries quickly, he is prepared to surrender Alsace-Lorraine. There is no other way of doing it and Alsace-Lorraine is lost to us anyhow. The question of Poland he intends to postpone for the major peace negotiations. The peace preliminaries should not go beyond conceding in principle a neutral Poland and discussing preparatory work on ethnographic and other studies. No Polish frontiers to be established in the peace preliminaries. Under no circumstances must we lose Upper Silesia. Economically it is essential to us, it is not indisputably Polish territory, it never belonged to Poland, and the Poles merely immigrated. Upper Silesia is a central issue. Danzig can become a free port or we can concede to the Poles as a free zone a different branch of the Vistula estuary and a piece of the lagoon. That is a matter of money.

    On the Potsdamer Platz I saw for the first time since the revolution an officer with epaulettes.

    The Foreign Ministry of the Republic – a week ago, when the monarchic concept was a matter of course, the notion would have seemed preposterous. And yet I fancy that people’s real outlook is only now coming to the fore. The monarchic idea was long before slowly done to death by the Emperor’s utter personal failure, especially during the war, as well as by his flashy and disquieting incompetence.

Sunday, 17 November 1918        Berlin

The first post-revolution Sunday. During the late afternoon there were large crowds of Sunday strollers going via Unter den Linden to the Imperial Stables in order to see the traces of fighting on the buildings. All very pacific and characterized by vulgar curiosity. The very marked damage to the Imperial Stables was especially gaped at. The only difference between this and former Sundays was the absence of policemen and the presence, though in no great numbers, of armed sailors, guards and patrols.

    In the morning I went to the Foreign Ministry and called on various people in connection with my Polish mission. First Nadolny, to collect information about the Ukraine. Our Soldiers’ Councils, he told me, are adopting a neutral and reserved attitude towards all the political tangles and fighting which is going on there; this is in agreement with our Government. The arrival of Entente forces in the Ukraine is imminent. After that, the presence of our troops will no longer serve any purpose as they are simply acting as a barrier against the Bolsheviks. They should therefore remain until the time of the Entente’s entry, but then be withdrawn straightaway. I am to work at high pressure in Warsaw to see that their transit through Poland is guaranteed. It renders imperative close understanding with High Command East.

    Next I saw Bernstorff. He, like Erzberger, wants discussion of Polish affairs postponed until the big peace conference. I am to say at every opportunity, public and private, that we would in any case have been prepared to deal with the Polish Question on the lines of Wilson’s Point Thirteen and so they (the Poles) should refrain from committing any follies now.

    From Bernstorff to Solf, who had nothing to add but warned me urgently against establishing any links with Zionist or other Jewish political trends because this would rouse Pilsudski’s suspicions. I am to get on the best possible terms with Pilsudski.

Tuesday, 19 November 1918        Berlin

Today I received my appointment as Minister, signed by Solf and confirmed by the Executive Council of the Soldiers’ and Workers’ Council.

    In the afternoon farewell visits and staff problems.

    At ten o’clock at night left from Friedrichstrasse Station in the special train put at my disposal for the duration of my mission. It consists of a Pullman, a sleeper, and a dining-car, exuding a slightly American millionaire atmosphere. Apart from taking along Niemozecki (the Polish charg” d’affaires) and his wife, I was accompanied by Rawicki, Dr Meyer, G”lpen, von Strahl, Otto F”rstner, a courier, and lower echelon personnel (cipher clerks, office manager, shorthand-typists, and so on). About twenty people in all. Chatted with Niemozecki and others until midnight, then to bed and slept well. Shortly before seven in the morning, at Alexandrovo, the head of the German Soldiers’ Council (a youngster with a very smart military carriage) and an officer of the Polish Legion reported to me. Everything is quiet in these parts. The railway lines, which had been torn up, have been repaired. We can travel straight through to Warsaw. The shuttle-service of refugees from Poland and Germany has continued undisturbed for some days. But the Soldiers’ Council formally complained to me that the Poles have failed to render available three hundred coaches. The punctuality and love of order among my compatriots has not suffered through the revolution. The Council has moreover enlisted the services of an officer, a lieutenant, though many of his brother-officers are, as I was told, `gone’.

Wednesday, 20 November 1918        Warsaw

At breakfast a discussion with Niemozecki. He emphasized his wish for a close and amicable relationship between Poland and Germany. I agreed and said that this will only be possible if both Poland and Germany make sacrifices and relinquish dangerous aspirations. We have accepted Wilson’s Fourteen Points and this involves the abandonment of certain territories, but we cannot cede Danzig. Niemozecki confirmed that this is `Impossible!’ The best way to lay the groundwork for mutual lasting friendship between between Poland and Germany will be, I continued, for us to negotiate directly and to lay before the Peace Conference an agreed programme. That, though, depends on there existing a strong Government both in Poland and Germany. If Pilsudski can establish himself, then a direct understanding may be feasible. The Entente, Niemozecki commented, is playing a two-faced game whose object is permanently to estrange Poland and Germany. It has made large promises to the Poles, but now seems to be backing down from them.

    He went on to tell me that he wants to resign from his diplomatic career and to settle in Warsaw, in which case he hopes to be able to supply me with sound information and render me other services. I have a notion that he is trying to trap me.

    Had luncheon served in the Pullman for Niemozecki, Rawicki, Meyer, G”lpen, and myself. We travelled through the areas which were the scene of the major hostilities in 1914 and 1915. There are still some ruins to be seen. At Warsaw I was welcomed at the station by a representative of the Polish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, a representative of the War Ministry, an officer of Pilsudski’s personal staff, and another half dozen Polish Legion officers. A Polish military car (probably one `requisitioned’ from us and painted with the red Polish eagle) drove us to our hotel, the Bristol.

    On my arrival I was at once visited by Major Ritter, liaison officer for Supreme High Command in Warsaw. He evidently wanted to be ahead of the representatives of the Soldiers’ Council. He was discreet, but his account dearly revealed the deplorable behaviour on the part of the Governor-General who, ten days ago, tamely allowed himself to be removed by the mutinous German soldiery and the Legionaries. Without a blow falling, the Poles `took over’ munitions, raw materials depts, horses, and furnishings worth millions. A rump German Soldiers’ Council, with no foundation of authority, came forward to act as a `liquidation commission’ and awarded itself large allowances and other perquisites. Ritter demanded that I should remove it.

    His visit was shortly followed by the representatives of the Soldiers’ Council. I took the line that, in accordance with our promises to the Polish Government, there is no longer any room for German military personnel in Warsaw. Consequently the military members of the Soldiers’ Council must at once stop the liquidation process and leave. I shall attend to the orderly settlement of matters. They submitted.

    Next came a parson who pleaded with me to make the half million German civilians in Poland my concern. This is a genuine and major problem, seeing that they are now exposed to hate and ruin as a result of our Occupation officials’ conduct.

    After I had seen a Herr Sarnow (my predecessor’s secretary, whose description of events more or less confirmed Ritter’s), I received a Herr Korff, chairman of the German Aid Association. He had taken into his care the Legation funds and wants to hand them over to me. An important manufacturer, he has lived fifteen years in Warsaw. He says that he is ashamed to meet his Polish friends and only goes out at night, so badly did our armed forces and officials, from the top downwards, behave. The damage done to German reputation is immeasurable and irreparable. The blame, he conceded, lies mainly with the officers. They no longer bothered about their men and in part were venal, like the officials. A case of utter loss of moral authority.

    Our talk was abruptly terminated by the arrival of an officer from Pilsudski’s personal staff. Pilsudski asked to be excused for cavalierly claiming my attention before even the official formalities were discharged between us, but something very serious had happened. Allegedly as a reprisal for having to give up their arms, German troops stationed at Brest-Litovsk had set fire to houses in two villages and made prisoners whom they abducted and threatened to shoot straightaway. Would I please intervene so that sentence should be duly passed on them? Highly unfavourable repercussions might otherwise occur. I promised to telegraph High Command East. This done, I sent a verbal note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirming dispatch of the message, but simultaneously drawing attention to the imprisonment without trial of fifteen German subjects, one of whom is alleged to have been executed by the Poles. I would appreciate reciprocal regard for our good relations.

    Undoubtedly the conduct of German officers and officials in Poland on 11 November was disgraceful, but it was not much better in Berlin on 9 November. My feeling is that everywhere it was a system that failed, not individuals, a system which finally relied entirely on brute force and broke down helplessly the moment this slipped out of its grasp.

Thursday, 21 November 1918        Warsaw

At eleven o’clock I made my initial call on Wassiliewski, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He received me in the company of Filippovicz, his Deputy Secretary of State. Handing over my credentials, I said a few friendly words and the Minister, reading from a manuscript, reciprocated. How much was sincere, how much was insincere, it was impossible to glean from this first meeting. The only positive point that emerged was in respect of the imprisoned Germans. Filippovicz (who, apart from Polish, speaks only English) promised to let me have news about them by five o’clock this afternoon and to effect their release shortly.

    At five I was received in official audience by Pilsudski. I handed him the original of my credentials and made a short speech. He replied in his capacity as Head of State. Notable was that he spoke of `our’ (his and my) task in the development of relations between Poland and Germany. I seized on the phrase and expressed pleasure at his having mentioned a `joint task which you and I have been allotted’. He complemented this with `the joint task to guide our two peoples out of their old enmity into new amity’.

    He looks very ill, his features pale and sunken. But he still has his old air of vigour and benevolence and his manner is cheerful. He wants to put his country on a constitutional basis as soon as possible, he said, and to divest himself of the irregular power which has devolved on him. The claims of socialism must be propitiated with words a long way; the times demand it. Whether deeds will keep pace with words is a different matter. Conditions in the river Bug lines of communication area cause him considerable worry. Our troops there are setting fire to villages and abducting their inhabitants. That presents a grave peril to the friendship we are both trying to achieve. He wants to secure a clear state of affairs, via negotiation, as soon as possible.

    I told him that I have already requested High Command East to attach a liaison officer to my Legation. This was obviously a source of relief to him. I then mentioned the imprisoned Germans. He correctly interpreted my very carefully formulated hope that he will be able to maintain his position as a question. He sees a threat, he replied, only in the presence of Russian and Ukrainian Bolsheviks and supporting gangs in the south-east of the country as well as the very unruly circumstances prevailing in the south-west, in the Dombrova area, where the revolutionary spark may dart over from Germany to Poland. For the rest he just goes ahead and leaves the shouting to others. The opposition at Posen is no danger because it will always stay within constitutional bounds. We then chatted about private affairs and revived old memories, which always makes Pilsudski happy. It is quite obvious that his most enjoyable days, his real youth, were those he spent fighting with his Legionaries.

Friday, 22 November 1918        Warsaw

At half past eight Major Ritter came to report about the negotiations with the Poles, due to start today, on the evacuation of troops from the Ukraine. At half past eleven I called on Nieniewski, the Deputy Chief of Staff. In the old days we served at the same staff headquarters.

    I was barely back in the hotel when Pilsudski arrived, without prior notice, and accompanied only by an aide-de-camp. A decree, signed by him yesterday, has made him dictator of Poland. That rendered his visit the more surprising. Heads of State do not normally return calls personally. In the course of our conversation he reverted to yesterday’s aphorism about it being our joint task to guide our two peoples out of their old enmity into new amity, adding that conditions in the Bug lines of communication area do imperil the success of this task, all the more as the fall of Lemberg will focus public interest on the problem. He could not confirm that Lemberg has already fallen, but its capture is absolutely imminent. He alluded proudly to the fact that he had brigaded his old First Legion units and sent them there, mentioning incidentally that currently the Polish Army has a strength of thirty thousand, an establishment which within a fortnight will be adequately trained. He stayed about half an hour, chatting and telling me his domestic plans. He wants to move into a small palace. He also said that at the moment he barely has a second shirt to his name, but showed me with pride the sword of honour presented to him by his Legions after two years of war.

    In the afternoon, between a stream of visitors, I dictated my first report on the situation here. At half past seven Hutten came. He had spent the morning waiting vainly in my bathroom because, after Pilsudski, I had had Wassiliewski with me. He grumbled about High Command East and the Bug lines of communication area where our soldiers are living like savages, killing people, committing arson, and so on. He was insistent that I should complete my day by calling on Count Sczeptycki, Chief of the General Staff. He was gone barely ten minutes when I received a message from Sczeptycki that he must see me this evening still on a most urgent matter. I replied that I would receive him at half past ten.

    He arrived punctual to the minute, alone, and transmitted to me verbally the demand that we evacuate immediately the lines of communication area left of the Bug. If we do not, Poland will appeal for help to the Entente. He emphasized twice that he was speaking in his capacity as Chief of the General Staff; tomorrow I shall be presented officially with the same demand by the Government. This means that I am faced, at a moment when I am completely cut off from my Government, with a barely disguised ultimatum. Sczeptycki based the demand on the atrocities alleged to have been committed by our soldiers. When I reminded him of the misdeeds committed by the Austrian Army, to which he belonged only a year ago, he admitted that in the current state of gang warfare such incidents can hardly be avoided. All the same, public opinion has become excited by them to such a degree that neither this nor any other Polish Government can or could resist it. In fact, of course, it is our weakness and the contempt for the behaviour of our officials and many of our officers that has encouraged the Polish Government to put forward this unceremonious demand.

Saturday, 23 November 1918        Warsaw

In the morning visited Archbishop Cardinal Kakowski. He resides in a palace which is large but furnished in middle-class style and smells of chlorine. His private chaplain led us into an old-fashioned drawing-room and the Cardinal, a youngish man with a rather common face and pale blue eyes, soon appeared. He and the chaplain evinced great interest in our revolution, asking whether all our dynasties really have fallen, whether things have settled down now, and whether the Bolsheviks can still prove dangerous. The German revolution is a far greater hazard to Poland than the Russian, they maintained, because everything in the West finds favour here. I purposely brought the talk round to Pilsudski. The Cardinal pulled an irritated face, an expression verging on contempt, and made it obvious that he is no admirer of his. Pilsudski is very popular; le peuple a besoin d’un h”ros (our conversation was in French); it was his arrest which turned him into a martyr and national hero. I suspect that the Cardinal holds this particularly against us. We have established a competitor to himself and his saints. Pilsudski is no soldier, he continued, and understands little of military affairs, never having served as a regular officer. He left me with an impression of hurt vanity and aristocratic disdain for a popular hero.

    At half past twelve a Polish officer brought back from the radio tower my telegram about Sczeptycki’s ultimatum, which had been handed in by G”lpen at six. It was not transmitted because it needs my personal signature. I took it back and wrote Sczeptycki a pretty curt letter `requesting’ him to issue instructions that will ensure his agreements with me being implemented. Meanwhile I would not be in a position to convey to Berlin the contents of yesterday’s talk between us. Within an hour Sczeptycki’s personal assistant, a little Count Josef Michatowski, appeared to proffer apologies; matters are not yet properly organized, there is considerable disorder in the execution of business, nothing of the sort will occur again, and from now on all my telegrams will be dispatched without the slightest ado.

    Up to the present, half past three, Sczeptycki’s presaged ultimatum on the Polish Government’s part has not as yet arrived.

    During the afternoon I called on the Lutheran bishop, Bursche, and visited the hospital Where the last of our troops are lying. The bottomless misery of war is to be seen there, including the consumptive cases who caught their disease in Russian prisons. And the poor devil who has lost his leg and said, with tears in his eyes, that his occupation has gone with it too.

    In the evening, towards ten, I was having my meal in the dining-room with Meyer when we heard a buzz of voices and the noise of a large crowd in the hall. We went to see what was the matter. A waiter rushed up and whispered, `Take to your heels, here, through the back door.’ I caught the crowd yelling, `Down with Kessler.’ They were preparing to storm my room. `Kessler, out, out.’ One or two of the pack’s wild men ran up the stairs. Another, standing on a table gesticulating, made a speech that I did not understand. The manager approached and said that we must leave the hotel tomorrow before ten, or he would be shot. I discussed the situation with Meyer, went upstairs, and fetched G”lpen, in front of whose door the scared Legation staff was congregated. The three of us went to 6 Sachsenplatz to talk to Pilsudski. He was not there, but the guard gave us a guide to a fairly remote street where he was said to be. He led us to a rather old-fashioned apartment with semi-elegant but threadbare furnishings. First we were met by the aide-de-camp Winiawa, then Sosnkowski, who has become a general and corps commander of the Warsaw district. I told the latter that I was here in a private capacity, not as Minister, to inform him of the Bristol’s invasion by some one to two hundred people who threatened the manager on my account. The manager is therefore putting us on the street at ten in the morning. As I prefer not to leave in this way, I would ask him to calm down the manager and place the hotel under military protection. Sosnkowski agreed and asked me to wait for Pilsudski, who must arrive in a few moments. We settled down to a pleasant chat, although Sosnkowski was clearly embarrassed when I recalled that the mob threatened to return at ten, but for all that he referred to a report from the Bug lines of communication area about forty people being shot in a heap by our troops. As the clock soon turned one, I went without awaiting Pilsudski’s arrival.

Sunday, 24 November 1918        Warsaw

This morning no sign yet of Sosnkowski’s protective measures. At nine G”lpen brought three men from the Sachsenplatz who planted themselves with fixed bayonets in the corridor in front of my room. At half past eleven a platoon arrived to act as Legation Guard. Around noon a lieutenant reported to me as being charged with finding a Legation residence for us; he hopes to do so by tomorrow. At a quarter to one a crowd, several hundred strong, assembled outside the hotel.

    In the afternoon visited Korff. Received a report from G”lpen that the crowd stretches from the hotel to the other side of the street and the Legation Guard is jammed against the hotel door. I prepared a message for Berlin which I shall try and transmit in cipher. This morning Wassiliewski told Meyer that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assumes every guarantee for our personal safety. Later, speaking to Strahl, he narrowed this down by saying that, although the Ministry cannot assume guarantees, it will do everything within its power for us.

    At seven Meyer reported that the crowd had swept aside the Guard, forcibly entered the hotel, and searched my room as well as those of all other Legation members. The manager had earlier had our luggage taken to the fifth floor. There was also a message to send somebody to the Ministry forthwith. Meyer went himself and was informed that we must move this evening. At nine o’clock the Ministry would indicate a residence to us and place it at our disposal. Meyer insisted on seeing Wassiliewski and protested against our treatment as a breach of international law because the Polish Government, despite its guarantee, has failed to protect us from search of the extra-territorial quarters used by the Legation. I prepared with Meyer messages for Berlin which tomorrow I shall send with one of our cipher clerks by rail, since all telegraphic communications have been interrupted.

    At the Ministry Meyer was advised that seven rooms in two different dwellings stand at our disposal, but that they are unheated and in part unlit. I went with F”rstner to view the space offered us by Theusner, until now the German director of the Polish Loans Society.


German edition copyright ” 1961 by Insel Verlag, Franfurt am Maim, English Translation copyright ” 1971 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.