A Personal Narrative, Historic Background, and Commentary

One morning, sometime after 1980, we visited the weekly market in the old part of Antibes, to rummage through the colorful brocante section, buy some fresh fruit, and have some coffee. As I had done several times before, I stopped at the small table of a merchant who dealt in old books. There were the usual little volumes of writings by long-forgotten authors, moral sermons, descriptions of distant places, and odd philosophical treatises. But there were also three or four larger volumes. One caught my attention because it had a nice back, had an intriguing title about Woodrow Wilson (I live in Princeton, just a few blocks down the road from Wilson’s former residence) and the 1919 Peace Conference at the end of World War I. The book, however, contained only typewritten pages. Therefore it did not cost very much, just as much as I had taken along for the fruit and the coffee.

I did not have time to look at the book more closely until sometime after my retirement in 1989. At a meeting of the Historical Society of Princeton in 1994, I met Professor Arthur Link, editor of the voluminous and comprehensive Papers of Woodrow Wilson, and mentioned to him that I had an old book about the Peace Conference of 1919 and Woodrow Wilson. His comments prompted me to investigate the book more closely. I learned from Prof. Link that there were actually two different sets of records. Both reported from the “Council of Four” of the Peace Conference of 1919 that concluded World War I with the Treaty of Versailles. There were the official minutes written by Sir Maurice Hankey, K.C.B., the British secretary of the Council. There were also the notes taken by Professor P. J. Mantoux, the French interpreter serving Clémenceau. Later I found out that the stenographer C.F. Swan also attended some meetings (see the meeting of June 5 at 11:30 a.m., C.F.48, for which he wrote the Report). I looked at my old book again and read its title:

Conférence de la Paix
Conférence entre MM Clémenceau, Lloyd George, Orlando, Wilson
Procès-Verbaux Anglais 2 - 9 Juin 1919

Upon further investigation, I became convinced that the book I had found actually contained a section of the original minutes of the “Council of Four”. Hankey, the Council secretary, had taken these minutes, then had them typed, and presented one carbon copy to each of the four participants. A few corrections by hand were visible on the thin copy paper. The section I had found must have once belonged to the French government and covered only one of the last weeks of the conference, from June 2 to June 9, 1919.

The Peace Conference after World War I began in January of 1919 and conducted its business as the “Council of Ten” of the victorious allies. The meetings took place in the large Salon de l’Horloge of the Palais du Quai d’Orsay of the French Foreign Ministry in Paris. The Palais du Quai d’Orsay is an attractive 19th-century building in the center of the Foreign Ministry grounds at the Quai d’Orsay, facing the Seine and surrounded on its western and southern sides by the much larger office building of the ministry. The Palais contains a number of sumptuously decorated salons for receptions and the ceremonial office of the minister. A typical moment in the course of a meeting of the Council of Ten is depicted in a great painting that hangs in a central reception room of Princeton University’s Prospect House. It shows most of the participants, with Woodrow Wilson (who was also a former president of Princeton University) standing prominently in the center between his seated peers.

The “Council of Ten” attempted to agree on the terms of peace with Germany and Austria. Progress was very slow. Consequently, upon a suggestion by Woodrow Wilson, the “Council of Ten” agreed on March 24, 1919, that only the heads of state of the most important allies should meet as the “Council of Four”, officially named the “Supreme Council of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers”. This council included President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Mr. Lloyd George of the British Empire, M. Clémenceau of France, and M. Orlando of Italy. They usually met at Wilson’s residence in Paris, situated at the Place des Etats Unis, somewhere between the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. The meetings lasted from March 25 to June 28, 1919, the date of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Since Clémenceau was fluent in English, most of the discussions were held in English. However, Mantoux was present as an interpreter and had his notes transcribed every day by a secretary. For reasons of confidentiality, the meetings actually began without a secretary and without official minutes. However, on April 19, Orlando began to bring along a secretary to keep notes (Count Aldrovandi Marescotti) and, on April 20, Sir Maurice Hankey (later Lord Hankey) was established as the official secretary of the Council.

At this time, I have the following understanding of the history of the book that I had found at that time at the Antibes market:

Sir Maurice Hankey provided one typewritten copy of the minutes to each of the four participants in the form of one volume per week of meetings. Each full set, including all volumes, was signed by each of the four participants - presumably at the end of the last volume.

The French copy of the Hankey minutes was stored in the French Foreign Ministry, Le Ministère des Affaires Étrangères at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris. A copy of the Mantoux notes was also stored there. Mantoux retained two copies of his notes for himself. The official French copies of the Hankey minutes and the Mantoux notes were at the Quai d’Orsay until about 1943.

When German troops entered Paris during World War II, in 1940, the Ministère des Affaires Étrangères began to burn a large quantity of documents in the park between the office building of the Foreign Ministry and the Palais du Quai d’Orsay. The story as reported in the Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Supplementary Volume, page XVII”, that the ministry also burned the Mantoux notes and Hankey minutes, is incorrect. As indicated by the Director of the Archives at the Quai d’Orsay, only documents from the time after 1936 were burned.

The reader should know that the transactions of the Council of Four leading up to the Treaty of Versailles had not been published and had been treated as “secret” by the participating governments. Therefore it was no surprise that in 1940, immediately after the occupation of Paris by the German troops during World War II, several German historians appeared at the French Foreign Ministry to investigate all documents relating to the Versailles treaty. With the Allied landing in Normandy in 1944 and the liberation of France, the German historians retreated from Paris, taking a large quantity of boxes full of documents with them – including the Mantoux notes and Hankey minutes.

Sometime later, all these documents were put on a train in Germany to be transported further east for protection against Allied bombing. However, the train was bombed en route and most of the documents were burned. It was assumed that the Mantoux notes and the French copy of the Hankey minutes had thus disappeared. The area where this train fire occurred became part of Poland after the war (most likely, Silesia). It is known that the occupying Russians transported everything to Russia that they found to be of artistic or historic value. However, to this date, only very few French documents from the bombing of the train were recovered in Poland, and the Russians claim that they found no such documents, nor do they have any.

How did the volume I found survive? Did someone protect this and possibly other volumes of the minutes from being taken by the German historians from the Ministry in Paris? Did someone take this and possibly other books for the beauty of their old binding? Did someone later sell the books for the value of their appearance? In France, as in other countries, old books are bought as decorative items for their appearance, to be used in formal private libraries. Such libraries are typical for the homes of the older generation. As that generation passes away, their old books appear on the market again, often sold for very little by the heirs. Was that the way this book found its way to the bookseller at that flea market in Antibes where I bought it?

Some archivists at the French Foreign Ministry suspect that the subject volume (and possibly others) may have been recovered from the wrecked train. Whoever got hold of the volume I found may have brought it back to France, hoping for a better market there.

Sometime after 1944, the U.S. State Department began publishing the previously secret Hankey minutes based on the U.S. copy. This prompted the French government to allow Mantoux to publish his notes as well. Publication of the notes occurred in 1955, one year prior to Mantoux’ death.

After Mantoux’ death in 1956, his heirs began selling some of his estate to the public. The French foreign ministry communicated to me that a personal copy of the original Mantoux notes was sold at that time, giving the ministry an opportunity to replenish its archives.

In 1994, when I recognized the historic significance of the volume of the Hankey minutes that I had found, I offered to give the volume back to the French government, by way of a letter to the French embassy in Washington, DC. My letter was never answered. A year later, as I planned to donate the book to Princeton University, I contacted the French embassy in Washington one more time. This time I received an answer. The embassy had contacted the French Foreign Ministry and was advised that the Ministry had declined the offer of the book, assuming that it was only a later copy of the minutes. Further correspondence back and forth gave the Ministry some reason to believe that the book contained the actual minutes. Nevertheless, it was believed that they were not from their set. It was assumed that the book was a copy Mantoux had kept and which the heirs had sold to the public. Again, the Ministry declined my offer of the book, stating that it had already bought another set. Then, in November 1995, the Ministry suddenly became very interested in re-acquiring the book.

In October 1997, we returned the book as our personal donation to the French government. The return of the so far only volume of the French copy of the historic Hankey minutes resulted in a friendly celebration. The director of the archives of the Foreign Ministry kindly showed us the Salon de l’Horloge of the Palais du Quai d’Orsay, where the Peace Conference had begun. A festive lunch in the adjacent Grande Salle à Manger, combined with a most interesting discussion with a small group of participants, concluded the ceremony. (Additionally, the ministry graciously contributed $500 towards the costs of our trip to Paris).

Historians writing about the Peace Conference of 1919 use Hankey’s minutes or, alternatively, Mantoux’ notes, as they see fit. Professor Link also did that in the Papers of Woodrow Wilson for the week of June 2 to June 9, 1919, for which we had found the Hankey minutes. There was no clear explanation for such alternating use of sources nor for missing two meetings completely. Therefore, we became interested in a comparison of the two historic sources, with both reporting from the same meetings. We wanted to know whether historians are right to use one source or the other, or whether both sources should be used. Our comparison resulted in a paper: “Woodrow Wilson, Hankey and Mantoux - Comparison of some Records of the Paris Peace Conference, Council of Four, 1919”. The paper is presented in the chapters following this introduction. The paper gives a side-by-side comparison of the Mantoux and Hankey records, but only for a limited number of Meetings.

The differences between the Mantoux notes and the Hankey minutes are astounding! Furthermore, there are substantial differences in the Appendices and enclosed material between the two reports.

Neither Hankey nor Mantoux could write in shorthand. Both relied on hand-written notes for later dictation of their records to a secretary at the end of the day. Mantoux, who may have had a brilliant memory, quite often reports numerous verbatim speeches by meeting participants – at the end of a full day of meetings. Was he a modern-day Thucydides? Mantoux reported more in detail when Clémenceau spoke or in matters of interest to France. Hankey reports more in a matter-of-fact style, also being more verbose in some instances than in others and paying more attention to thought processes. Certain discussions are reported only by one or the other of the two.

One can also find an interesting – but, in some points, erroneous - article about the Mantoux notes and an equally interesting biography of Mantoux in Professor Link’s Supplementary Volume to the Papers of Woodrow Wilson, The Deliberations of the Council of Four, Notes of the Official Interpreter Paul Mantoux, published by Princeton University Press.

There is still one task that has not been undertaken by historians: a detailed comparison of the deliberations of the Council of Four with the actual clauses of the Peace Treaty of Versailles. This area concerns a zone grise, as Jacques Bariéty calls it. Professor Bariéty, Professeur à la Sorbonne et Conseiller Historique du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, discussed this matter with the author during the above-mentioned reception and lunch at the Palais du Quai d’Orsay. The deliberations of the Council of Four did not follow strict parliamentary procedures – where motions are presented, discussed, and finally voted upon, in order to arrive at specific resolutions. Votes were seldom taken, and no clear consensus was arrived at. The actual peace treaty was prepared by a “Drafting Committee” that worked simultaneously and in connection with the Council of Four. It would be very desirable to produce a side-by-side presentation of the Council deliberations with the resulting treaty clauses, or vice versa, similar to the side-by-side presentation of the Mantoux notes and Hankey minutes as they are presented in the following paper.

One cannot leave the subject of the 1919 Peace Conference without reflection upon the tragedy of that period. Europe had reached an unprecedented cultural and economic level in the 19th century - in the development of the interrelated cultures of its nations and in its early industrial development. Then, by the nationalistic immaturity of its people and the inexcusable default and shortsightedness of all its leaders, Europe was led into the self-destructive first “World War” and its abysmal horrors. Now, in 1919, the leaders of the greatest nations met to establish the conditions for peace. Two themes dominated their deliberations:

Different voices could be heard in the deliberations of the Peace Conference. There were the voices demanding “full” compensation (in the absence of properly established damage figures, this meant open-ended, maximum reparations) and the permanent weakening of Germany. There were the voices proposing a rebuilding of German economic strength (which required a fixed limitation of reparation obligations and start-up help to Germany, but promised higher reparations in total). Was there also a thought on the side of the British of reestablishing a Continental balance? Then, there were the voices of “fairness”, emphasizing the human concerns of the respective populations.

Only in passing was it mentioned in the Council that there would be the possibility and danger of a new war of revenge if the conditions of peace were predatory or too irritating. Only in passing were the dangers resulting from a destabilized Germany mentioned. But, then, it was “pointed out that Germany would not constitute a danger to France for 30 years or even 50 years” (meeting of June 2, 1919, page 5 of the official minutes). Only in passing was the political turmoil in Russia and the beginning political turmoil in Germany mentioned.

For the first time, the possibility was indicated for stabilizing the world through the cooperative structure of the newly formed League of Nations! (I read the diary my father wrote in 1919, expressing his fear of another horrible war of revenge and expressing his great hope for a strong and fair League of Nations - proposing in 1919 that first there should be a union of European nations, having its headquarters in Brussels!).

How can one read the deliberations of the Peace Conference of 1919 and not shudder - knowing what happened only 14 years or 20 years later? How must one wish for a greater maturity of the people of all nations and a greater view of wisdom for their leaders, then as now.

H. Schwab
Princeton, 1997