The Munich Pact
( ; ; ; ; ) was an agreement
permitting German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland.
Sudetenland were areas along borders of
Czechoslovakia, mainly inhabited by Czech Germans.
agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munich, Germany, among the major powers of Europe
without the presence of Czechoslovakia.
It was an act of
. The agreement was signed in
the early hours of 30 September 1938 (but dated 29 September). The
purpose of the conference was to discuss the future of
Czechoslovakia in the face of territorial demands made by German
dictator Adolf Hitler
. The agreement
was signed by Germany, France
Britain, and Italy
Sudetenland was of immense strategic importance to Czechoslovakia,
as most of its border defenses were situated there, and many of its
banks were located there as well.
Because the state of Czechoslovakia was not invited to the
conference, the Munich Agreement is sometimes called the
( ; ). The phrase Munich
( ; ) is also used because military alliances
between Czechoslovakia and France were not honoured. However, today
the document is typically referred to simply as the Munich
Agreement even in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
For several years, Hitler had been pursuing the goal of a Greater Germany
, composed of all of the land
in which German peoples lived. This was often expressed in terms of
providing "living space" (Lebensraum
the Germans. The Saar
reunited with Germany in 1935, following a plebiscite. Austria was
added, more forcefully, in early 1938 (Anschluss
). Once Anschluss was completed,
Czechoslovakia was hemmed in by Germany on three sides. The portion
of Czechoslovakia bordering Germany (the Sudetenland
) had a substantial German
population, constituting a majority in many districts. Geography
thus combined with demographics to make Czechoslovakia the next
target. That spring and summer, certain Sudeten Germans agitated
for autonomy or union with Germany, and German officials demanded
this additional territory.
Negotiations took place over the summer. While Czechoslovakia had a
well-trained army, it was unwilling to fight its much larger
neighbor without the aid of the Western powers, France and the
United Kingdom. France, in particular, was unprepared for war, so
it followed the British lead ; Prime Minister Chamberlain thought
Hitler would be satisfied if this demand was met. By September 21,
Czechoslovakia had been forced to accept
loss of the Sudetenland. On September 28, the British asked for a
conference. The next day, the Great
of Europe met in Munich. Significantly, Czechoslovakia
was excluded from the conference.
A deal was reached on 29 September, and at about 1:30am on 30
September 1938, Adolf Hitler
, Neville Chamberlain
, Benito Mussolini
and Édouard Daladier
signed the Munich
Agreement. The agreement was officially introduced by Mussolini
although in fact the so-called Italian plan had been prepared in
the German Foreign Office. It was nearly identical to the Godesberg
proposal: the German army was to complete the occupation of the
Sudetenland by 10 October, and an international commission would
decide the future of other disputed areas.
Czechoslovakia was informed by Britain and France that it could
either resist Germany alone or submit to the prescribed
annexations. The Czechoslovak government, realizing the
hopelessness of fighting Germany alone, reluctantly capitulated (30
September) and agreed to abide by the agreement. The settlement
gave Germany the Sudetenland starting 10 October, and de
control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as
Hitler promised to go no further. On September 30 after some rest,
Chamberlain went to Hitler and asked him to sign a peace treaty
between the United Kingdom and Germany. After Hitler's interpreter
translated it for him, he happily agreed.
On 30 September, upon his return to Britain, Chamberlain delivered
his famous "peace for our time
speech to delighted crowds in London.
Though the British and French were pleased, as were the German
military and diplomatic leadership, Hitler was furious. He felt as
though he had been forced into acting like a bourgeois politician
by his diplomats and generals. Hitler now regarded Chamberlain with
utter contempt. A British diplomat in Berlin was informed by
reliable sources that Hitler viewed Chamberlain as "an impertinent
busybody who spoke the ridiculous jargon of an outmoded democracy.
The umbrella, which to the ordinary German was a symbol of peace,
was in Hitler's view only a subject of derision". Also, Hitler had
been heard saying: "If ever that silly old man comes interfering
here again with his umbrella, I'll kick him downstairs and jump on
his stomach in front of the photographers".
Although the initial British reaction was generally positive, as
the population had expected war, it quickly turned sour.
royal patronage - Chamberlain was greeted as a hero by the royal
family and invited on the balcony at Buckingham Palace before he had presented the agreement to Parliament - opposition was present from the
start and Clement Attlee and the
Labour Party opposed the agreement in alliance with what had been
seen, up to then, as the die hard
and reactionary element of the
In later years Chamberlain was excoriated for his role as one of
the Men of Munich
- perhaps most famously in the 1940
squib Guilty Men
. A rare wartime defence of the
Munich Agreement came in 1944 from Viscount Maugham
had been Lord Chancellor at the time. Maugham viewed the decision
to establish a Czechoslovak state including substantial German and
Polish minorities as a "dangerous experiment" in the light of
previous disputes, and ascribed the Munich Agreement largely to
France's need to extricate itself from its treaty obligations in
the light of its unpreparedness for war.
Daladier believed he saw Hitler's ultimate goals. He told the
British in a late April 1938 meeting that Hitler's real aim was to
eventually secure "a domination of the Continent in comparison
with which the ambitions of Napoleon were feeble.
" He went on
to say "Today it is the turn of Czechoslovakia.
Tomorrow it will be the turn of Poland and Romania.
When Germany has obtained the oil and wheat it needs, she will
turn on the West. Certainly we must multiply our efforts
to avoid war. But that will not be obtained unless Great
Britain and France stick together, intervening in Prague for new
concessions but declaring at the same time that they will safeguard
the independence of Czechoslovakia. If, on the contrary,
the Western Powers capitulate again they will only precipitate the
war they wish to avoid.
" . Perhaps discouraged by the
arguments of the military and civilian members of the French
government regarding their unprepared military and weak financial
situation, as well as traumatized by France's bloodbath in the
First World War that he was personally a witness to, Daladier
ultimately let Chamberlain have his way. On his return to Paris,
Daladier, who was expecting a hostile crowd, was acclaimed. He then
told his aide, Alexis Léger
"Ah, les cons!
" (Ah, the fools!
Outwardly, Joseph Stalin was also upset by the results of the
Munich conference. The Soviets had not been represented at the
conference and felt they should be acknowledged as a major power.
The British and French, however, mostly used the Soviets as a
threat to dangle over the Germans. Stalin concluded that the West
had actively colluded with Hitler to hand over a Central European
country to the Nazis, causing concern that they might do the same
to the Soviet Union in the future, allowing the partition of the
USSR between the western powers and the fascist Axis
. This belief led the Soviet Union to
reorient its foreign policy towards a rapprochement with Germany,
which eventually led to the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Czechoslovaks were greatly dismayed with the Munich settlement.
Sudetenland gone to Germany and later southern Slovakia (one third
of Slovak territory) occupied by Hungary and the area of
Zaolzie regained Poland (the
disputed area west of the Olza River - 801.5 km² with a population of 227,399),
Czecho-Slovakia (as the state was now renamed) lost its defensible
border with Germany and its
Without them its independence became
more nominal than real. In fact, Edvard Beneš
, the then-President of
Czechoslovakia, had the military print the march orders for his
army and put the press on standby for a declaration of war.
Czechoslovakia also lost 70% of its iron/steel, 70% of its
electrical power, 3.5 million citizens and the famous Škoda Works
to Germany as a result of the
The Sudeten Germans celebrated what they saw as their liberation.
The imminent war, it seemed, had been avoided.
Hitler's determination to go through with his plan for the invasion
of all Czechoslovakia in 1938 provoked a major crisis in the German
command structure. The Chief of the General Staff, General Ludwig Beck
protested in a lengthy series of
memos that it would start a world war that Germany would lose, and
urged Hitler to put off the projected war. Hitler called Beck's
arguments against war "kindische Kräfteberechnugen
("childish calculations"). On August 4, 1938, a secret Army meeting
was held. Beck read his lengthy report to the assembled officers.
They all agreed something had to be done to prevent certain
disaster. Beck hoped they would all resign together but no one
resigned except Beck. However his replacement, General Franz Halder
, sympathised with Beck and
together they conspired with several top generals, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
(Chief of German
Intelligence), and Graf
(Berlin's Police Chief) to arrest Hitler the
moment he gave the invasion order. However the plan would only work
if both Britain and France made it known to the world that they
would fight to preserve Czechoslovakia. This would help to convince
the German people that certain defeat awaited Germany. Agents were
therefore sent to England to tell Chamberlain that an attack on
Czechoslovakia was planned and their intentions to overthrow Hitler
if this occurred. However the messengers were not taken seriously
by the British. In September, Chamberlain and Daladier decided not
to threaten a war over Czechoslovakia and so the planned removal of
Hitler could not be justified. The Munich Agreement therefore
preserved Hitler in power.
Invasion of the remainder of Czechoslovakia
Germany stated that the incorporation of Austria into the Reich
resulted in borders with Czechoslovakia that were a great danger to
German security, and that this allowed Germany to be encircled by
the Western Powers. In 1937, the Wehrmacht
had formulated a plan called Operation Green
) for the invasion of Czechoslovakia
which was implemented as Operation Southeast
on 15 March
On 14 March Slovakia seceded from Czechoslovakia and became a
separate pro-Nazi state
On the following day, Carpathian Ruthenia proclaimed independence
as well, but after three days was completely occupied by Hungary.
Czechoslovak president Emil Hácha
traveled to Berlin and was forced to sign his acceptance of
of the remainder of Bohemia
. Churchill's prediction was fulfilled as
German armies entered Prague and
proceeded to occupy the rest of the country, which was transformed
into a protectorate
of the Reich.
concerns arose in Great Britain that Poland (now substantially
encircled by German possessions) would become the next target of
Nazi expansionism, which was made apparent by the dispute over the
Polish Corridor and the Free City of
This resulted in the signing of an Anglo-Polish military
, and consequent refusal of the Polish government to
German negotiation proposals over the Polish Corridor and the
status of Danzig.
Prime Minister Chamberlain felt betrayed by the Nazi seizure of
Czechoslovakia, realising his policy of appeasement
towards Hitler had failed, and began
to take a much harder line against the Nazis. Among other things he
immediately began to mobilize the British Empire's armed forces on
a war footing. France did the same. Italy saw itself threatened by
the British and French fleets and started its own invasion of Albania
1939. Although no immediate action followed, Hitler's move on Poland
prompted England and France to officially begin World War II
by declaring war against Germany
on September 2, 1939.
Quotations from key participants
- Chamberlain in a letter to his sister Hilda, on 2 October
- Gilbert, Martin and Gott, Richard, The Appeasers
(Weidenfeld Goldbacks, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1967), p.
- Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, The Inner Circle (Macmillan,
1959), p. 122.
- Kirkpatrick, p. 135.
- Viscount Maugham, "The Truth about the Munich Crisis", William
Heinemann Ltd, 1944.
- Shirer, William The Collapse of the
Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940,
1969, De Capo Press, pages 339-340.
- Jean-Paul Sartre, Le sursis
Hildebrand, "Das Dritte Reich". Oldenbourg Grundriss der
Geschichte. München 1991, S. 36
- Shirer, William L., The Rise and Fall of the Third
- [Terry Parssinen|The Oster Conspiracy of 1938: The Unknown
Story of the Military Plot to Kill Hitler, Pimlico Press, 2004,
- Reinhard Müller, Deutschland. Sechster Teil (München
and Berlin: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1943), pp. 116-130.
- Herzstein, Robert Edwin The Nazis (Time-Life Books
World War II Series) New York:1980 Time-Life Books Page 184
- Krejčí, Oskar: "Geopolitics of the Central European Region. The view from Prague and
Bratislava" Bratislava: Veda, 2005. 494 p. (Free download)
- Lukes, Igor & Erik Goldstein (editors) The Munich
Crisis, 1938 : Prelude to World War II, London ; Portland, OR
: Frank Cass Inc, 1999.
- Shirer, William L. The
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, New York: Touchstone Press,
- Wheeler-Bennett, Sir John
Munich: Prologue to Tragedy, New York: Viking Press, 1965.
- Tauchen, Jaromír: "Czech Republic and the nullity of the Munich
Agreement" In A Brief Introduction to Czech Law. Rincon: The
American Institute for Central European Legal Studies (AICELS),
2008. p. 103 - 110.