On January 30, 1933, the Nazis acquired mastery of Germany when Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor. That evening Hitler stood triumphantly in the window of the Reich Chancellery waving to thousands of storm troopers who staged parades throughout the streets of Berlin. The Nazis proclaimed that their Third Reich
would be the greatest civilization in history and would last for thousands of years. But the meteoric rise of Hitler
and national socialism
was followed by an almost equally rapid defeat; the Third Reich survived for a mere twelve years. But one of the main causes of World War II was Hitler's public justification for the dismemberment of the Czech state through either war or diplomacy was the plight of the 3.5 million ethnic Germans the Treaty of Versailles had left inside Czechoslovakia. The main land that Hitler wanted to annex to Germany was that of the Sudetenland, where most of the people living there were of German origin. The land also bordered Germany to the South East, and Germany was prepared to conquer this land at all cost.
"And now before us stands the last problem that must be solved and will be solved It (the Sudetenland) is the last territorial claim which I have to make in Europe, but it is the claim from which I will not recede..." - Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin, September 26 1938, just prior to the Munich conference.
Most of the German minorities live in Sudetenland, an economically valuable and strategically important area along the Czech border with Germany and Austria. The grievances of the Sudeten Germans against the Czech state had led to the rise of a strong German nationalist movement in the Sudetenland. By the mid -1930's, this movement had the support of almost 70 percent of the Sudeten German population. Their leader, the pro-Nazi Konrad Heinlen, began demanding autonomy for this region Both the real and contrived problems of the Sudeten Germans added credibility to Hitler's charge that they were denied the right of self-determination and lived as an oppressed minority, which he was obligated to defend In the spring of 1938, Heinlein was directed by Hitler to make demands that the Czechs could not accept, thereby giving Germany a reason to intervene. The Czech situation soon turned into an international crisis that dominated the European scene for the rest of that current year.
The weekend which began on Friday, May 20, 1938, developed into a critical one and would later be remembered as the "May crisis." During the ensuing forty-eight hours, the Governments in London, Paris, Prague and Moscow were panicked into the belief that Europe stood nearer to war than it had at any time since the summer of 1914. This may have been largely due to the possibility that new plans for a German attack on Czechoslovakia called "Case Green" which were drawn up for him, got leaked out. Hitler had begun to prepare an attack on the Sudetenland. The target date was the beginning of October. He was prepared to employ an army of ninety-six divisions. The Czechoslovak Government, aware of Hitler's intentions but uncertain when the blow would fall, ordered a partial mobilization on May 21. Hitler was outraged, explaining to his generals that he had offered no threat and was being treated with contempt. He had been humiliated, and no one yet humiliated him with impunity. His rage against Czechoslovakia increased, and on May 30 he issued a secret directive to his high command: "It is my unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future."
All through the summer Britain, France and the Soviet Union were aware that Hitler planned to strike at the Sudetenland and perhaps the whole of Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovaks had an excellent intelligence system with Germany and knew from day to day what Hitler was planning. Germany also had an excellent intelligence system, and in addition it had in Konrad Henlein, the National Socialist leader in the Sudetenland, a man who would stop at nothing to produce an insurrection or an act of deliberate provocation against the Czechoslovak Government. The German newspapers were filled with accounts of mass arrests of innocent men and women in the Sudetenland, and there were the inevitable circumstantial stories "by our correspondent." Nonexistent people in nonexistent villages were being slaughtered. The Czechoslovak Government attempted to refute some of these stories but gave up in despair. Hitler ordered a massive propaganda barrage against Czechoslovakia to prepare the German people for the October invasion.
On September 12th at Nuremberg, Hitler went as close to declaring war against Czechoslovakia as possible without actually signing the order to his troops to advance into enemy territory. He cried out that the Czechoslovak Government was using all of its means possible to annihilate the 3.5 million Sudeten Germans. He claimed that these people were being deprived of their rights, for example, they were not permitted to sing German songs or to wear white stockings. If indeed they went through with any of these crimes they were brutally struck down. Although the tone was ferociously threatening, he gave no examples of atrocities, perhaps because there were none. "The misery of the Sudeten Germans is without end," he declared. He then went on to promise that Germany would take care of her own and put an end to the continued oppression of 3.5 million Germans. "I hope that the foreign statesman will be convinced that these are not mere words," he added ominously.
This incredible declaration caused all of Europe to scramble and mobilize its respective armies. Hitler was demanding the direct annexation of the Sudetenland by the Reich, hinting that if necessary, he would resort to war. The Prime Minister of Britain, Neville Chamberlain was particularly distressed by the reports coming out of Germany. Feeling that quick action was necessary, he sent off a seven-line telegram to Hitler:
Having regard to the increasingly critical situation, I propose to visit you immediately in order to make an attempt to find a peaceful solution. I come to you by air and am ready to leave tomorrow. Please inform me of the earliest time you can receive me, and tell me the place of meeting. I should be grateful for a very early reply.
Neville Chamberlain Hitler accepted Chamberlain and following an entire days talks with Hitler, an exhausted Chamberlain flew back to London to consult with his colleagues. Over the next week, Chamberlain met many more times with Hitler. However, there was still a discrepancy over the exact date when the evacuation would begin. On September 29th, 1938 the Munich Conference was held. It was attended by representatives of France, Italy, Germany and Britain. During the course of this conference a pact was drawn up and signed by all the representatives of the respective countries.
Secret Reich Affairs Agreement reached between Germany the United Kingdom France and Italy, in Munich on 29 September 1938 Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, taking into consideration the agreement, which has already been reached in principle for the cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory, have agreed on the following terms and conditions governing the said cession and the measures consequent thereon, and by this agreement they each hold themselves responsible for the steps necessary to secure its fulfillment:-
1. The evacuation will begin on the 1st October. 2. The United Kingdom, France and Italy agree that the evacuation of the territory shall be completed by October 10th, without any existing installations having been destroyed and that the Czechoslovak Government will be held responsible for carrying out the evacuation without damage to the said installations. 7. There shall be the right of option into and out of the transferred territories, the option to be exercised within six months from the date of this agreement. A German-Czechoslovak commission shall determine the details of the option, consider ways of facilitating the transfer of population and settle questions of principle arising out of the said transfer. 8.The Czechoslovak Government will within a period of 4 weeks from the date of this agreement release from their military and police forces any Sudeten Germans who may wish to be released, and the Czechoslovak Government will within the same period release Sudeten German prisoners who are serving terms of imprisonment for political offenses.
Munich, September 29, 1938 ADOLF HITLER ED. DALADIER MUSSOLINI NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN
The date set in the pact for the beginning of Czechoslovakian evacuation of the territory was October 1st 1938, and German occupation of four specified districts was to take place in successive stages between October 1 and 7. Additional territories of predominantly German population were to be specified by an international commission composed of delegates from France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Czechoslovakia, and those territories were to be occupied by Germany by October 10th. The international commission was also to determine and occupy areas in which plebiscites were to be held and fix a date for such plebiscites no later than the end of November. The plebiscites, however, were never held. It was also agreed that if the claims of Hungarian and Polish minorities in Czechoslovakia were not settled in three months, a new conference was to be convened. Great Britain and France agreed, in an annex to the pact, to guarantee the new boundaries of Czechoslovakia against aggression, as did Germany.
The night of the Munich conference Chamberlain slept in Munich, and in the morning he called on Hitler to sign the Anglo-German agreement. After all that Chamberlain had done for Hitler he felt that the least he could demand of Hitler was a declaration of peaceful intentions toward England. Hitler signed the document without any particular show of interest, since for him the "method of consultation" was totally meaningless. Chamberlain returned to England in triumph, waving the letter to cheerful crowds, believing that the peace of Europe was assured for a generation. The belief was not shared by Hitler who despised Chamberlain as a weakling. "Our enemies are little worms," he said a year later. "I saw them at Munich."
In conclusion, Hitler's victory was complete: the Sudetenland was his. While there were still a few minor details to sort out, Adolf Hilter had gotten what he had come for. However, in March 1939, the Munich pact was nullified when the Germans invaded Czecho-Slovakia and subsequently made most of the country a German protectorate.
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