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The Munich Agreement was the agreement signed on 29 September 1938 between Britain, France, Germany and Italy. It was signed after fears of an outbreak of war during what was known as the “Czech Crisis” or “Sudetenland Crisis”.
Czechoslovakia was a country created by the Treaty of Versailles that was hated by the Germans. Amongst its population were nearly 3 million German speaking people who lived in the Sudetenland area. It also contained various other nationalities within its borders. The Czech crisis developed for several reasons. Firstly, Hitler had a deep rooted hatred of the mix of nationalities living in relative harmony in Czechoslovakia. He hated the Slavs who were living there, as they had betrayed Germany in First World War. Czechoslovakia also had alliances with France and Russia. Hitler viewed Russia as a future conquest. Czechoslovakia had a prominent strategic position; it was well protected by the mountainous terrain and had excellent airfields. It also served well for Hitler’s idea of expanding the living space for growing German population. The Germans living in the Sudetenland never properly integrated into Czech life. By March 1938, Germany had occupied Austria under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. This broke the
Treaty of Versailles, but Britain and France did nothing. Hitler then turned his attention to the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Since its formation, Czechoslovakia had been wary of possible German advances. There was unrest in the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia mainly because of the Sudeten German Party. The Sudeten German Party was formed in 1931 and the party worked to bring the region under German control. The party was strongly supported by the German people living in Sudeten region. Because of the German threat, Czechoslovakia had secured military alliances with France and Soviet Union. Sudetenland was an important region for Czechoslovakia since the region contained a vast array of natural resources as well as significant amount of the nation’s industry and banks. Also, the independence of Sudetenland it may cause other minorities in the country to seek independence
from Czechoslovakia. In 1938, Hitler ordered his generals to begin making plans for an invasion of the Sudetenland. Hitler needed to begin a campaign and ensure he was not the aggressor. Germany claimed that the people
of German origin living in the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia were discriminated by the Czechoslovak government. Hitler instructed the Sudeten German Party in Czechoslovakia to cause trouble. It was Hitler’s hope that those supporters would cause enough unrest that it would show that the Czechoslovaks were unable to control the region. It would then provide an excuse for the German Army to cross the border. In response to the actions of the Sudeten German Party, the Czechoslovak government was forced to declare martial law in the region. Following this decision, Hitler began demanding that the Sudetenland immediately be turned over to Germany. Hitler offered to give part of Czechoslovakia to Poland and Hungary in return for allowing the Germans to take the Sudetenland.
As the crisis grew, the threat of war spread across Europe causing Britain and France to take an active interest in the situation. Both Britain and France were willing to avoid a war for which they were not prepared. In an attempt to calm the situation, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sent a telegram to Hitler requesting a meeting with the goal of finding a peaceful solution. In the meeting with Chamberlain, Hitler demanded the turning over of Sudetenland to Germany by Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain was somewhat sympathetic to Hitler’s claims regarding Sudeten Germans. He was prepared to give Germany the Sudetenland. Chamberlain also came to an agreement with Hitler that any area of the Sudetenland with 50% German population would be handed to Germany.
On September 19, the British and French ambassadors met with the Czechoslovak government and recommended ceding those areas of the Sudetenland where Germans formed more than 50% of the population. The Czechoslovaks were forced to agree. Having secured this concession, Chamberlain returned to Germany and met with Hitler. Chamberlain was stunned when Hitler made new demands. Hitler demanded that German troops be permitted to occupy the entirety of the Sudetenland, that non‐ Germans be expelled, and that Poland and Hungary be given territorial concessions. If the demands were not met, Hitler was willing to take military action against Czechoslovakia. Hitler gave Britain and France an ultimatum of 2 p.m. on 28 September, after which he said he would invade Czechoslovakia. Such demands were unacceptable for Britain and France. In response to the German ultimatum, both Britain and France began mobilizing their forces.
The Munich Conference
Though Hitler was willing to risk war, he soon found that the German people were not in favor of entering into war. As a result, he stepped back from the plan and sent Chamberlain a letter guaranteeing the safety of Czechoslovakia if the Sudetenland were ceded to Germany. Eager toprevent war, Chamberlain replied that he was willing to continue talks and asked Italian leader Benito Mussolini to aid in persuading Hitler. In response, Mussolini proposed a four‐power summit between Germany, Britain, France, and Italy to discuss the situation. The Czechoslovaks were not invited to take part in the negotiation. Two Czech representatives were allowed to sit in the room next door when the negotiation was taking place. Russia, that had guaranteed Czechoslovakia, was also not invited. Gathering in Munich (Germany) on September 29, Chamberlain, Hitler, and Mussolini were joined by French Prime Minister Eduardo Daladier. Mussolini presented a plan which called for the Sudetenland to be ceded to Germany in exchange for guarantees that it would mark the end of German territorial expansion. Though presented by the Italian leader, the plan had been produced by the German government and its terms were similar to Hitler’s latest ultimatum. Desiring to avoid war, Chamberlain and Daladier were willing to agree to the “Italian plan.” As a result, the Munich Agreement was signed on 30 September, 1938. The Czechoslovak delegation was informed of the terms by Chamberlain and Daladier. Though initially unwilling to agree, the Czechoslovaks were forced to agree when they were informed that if a war occurs, the Czechoslovaks would be held responsible and it would receive no support.
The day after the agreement, the Czech Foreign Minister Dr Krofta met the British, French and Italian Foreign Ministers. He said: ‘Today it is our turn, tomorrow it will be the turn of others’ and told them to get out.
Aftermath of the Munich Agreement
As a result of the agreement, German forces crossed the border on October 1 and were warmly received by the Sudeten Germans while many Czechoslovaks left the region. Returning to London, Chamberlain proclaimed that he had secured “peace for our time.” While many in the British government were pleased with the result, others were not. The people and politicians of Britain were divided over their reaction to the Munich Agreement. Many were aware that appeasing Hitler could no longer continue. Most people supported Chamberlain’s success with a belief that a war had been avoided. Hitler was expecting that he had to fight to claim the Sudetenland. Hitler was surprised that Czechoslovakia’s allies abandoned the country in order to appease Germany. Realizing the Britain and France’s fear of war, Hitler encouraged Poland and Hungary to take parts of Czechoslovakia. Hitler moved to take the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. The German move to occupy Czechoslovakia met with no significant response from either Britain or France. In the end, the Germans took much more land than had ever been given at Munich.
The invasion of Czechoslovakia started to turn British people against the policy of appeasement. It now provided Hitler with a very important strategic position in which to continue with his expansion program. He could now easily attack Poland which would leave Britain with a very tough decision to make. In is interesting that the German generals believed that, if there had been a war in 1938, the German army would have been easily defeated. It is sometimes said that Chamberlain gave Britain the chance to prepare for war – but he gave time to Germany also.