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The Munich Pact ( ; ; ; ; ) was an agreement permitting German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland were areas along borders of Czechoslovakiamarker, mainly inhabited by Czech Germans. The agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munichmarker, Germany, among the major powers of Europe without the presence of Czechoslovakia. It was an act of appeasement. 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. The 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 Munich Dictate by Czechs and Slovaks ( ; ). The phrase Munich betrayal ( ; ) 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.

Background

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) for the Germans. The Saar was 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 the loss of the Sudetenland. On September 28, the British asked for a conference. The next day, the Great Powers of Europe met in Munich. Significantly, Czechoslovakia was excluded from the conference.

Resolution



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 facto 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.

Reactions

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. Despite royal patronage - Chamberlain was greeted as a hero by the royal family and invited on the balcony at Buckingham Palacemarker 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 Conservative Party.

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, who 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 Polandmarker and Romaniamarker. 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 in 1939.

The Czechoslovaks were greatly dismayed with the Munich settlement. With Sudetenland gone to Germany and later southern Slovakia (one third of Slovak territory) occupied by Hungary and the area of Zaolzie regained Polandmarker (the disputed area west of the Olza Rivermarker - 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 fortifications. 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 settlement.

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 von Helldorf (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 (Fall Grün) for the invasion of Czechoslovakia which was implemented as Operation Southeast on 15 March 1939.

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 German occupation of the remainder of Bohemia and Moravia. Churchill's prediction was fulfilled as German armies entered Praguemarker and proceeded to occupy the rest of the country, which was transformed into a protectorate of the Reich.

Meanwhile 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 Danzigmarker. This resulted in the signing of an Anglo-Polish military alliance, 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 in April 1939. Although no immediate action followed, Hitler's move on Poland in September 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 1938:







See also



Notes

  1. Gilbert, Martin and Gott, Richard, The Appeasers (Weidenfeld Goldbacks, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1967), p. 178.
  2. Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, The Inner Circle (Macmillan, 1959), p. 122.
  3. Kirkpatrick, p. 135.
  4. Viscount Maugham, "The Truth about the Munich Crisis", William Heinemann Ltd, 1944.
  5. Shirer, William The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940, 1969, De Capo Press, pages 339-340.
  6. Jean-Paul Sartre, Le sursis
  7. Klaus Hildebrand, "Das Dritte Reich". Oldenbourg Grundriss der Geschichte. München 1991, S. 36
  8. Shirer, William L., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
  9. [Terry Parssinen|The Oster Conspiracy of 1938: The Unknown Story of the Military Plot to Kill Hitler, Pimlico Press, 2004, ISBN 1844133079]
  10. Reinhard Müller, Deutschland. Sechster Teil (München and Berlin: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1943), pp. 116-130.
  11. Herzstein, Robert Edwin The Nazis (Time-Life Books World War II Series) New York:1980 Time-Life Books Page 184


References



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