Munich Agreement Explained

The Munich Agreement (Czech: Mnichovská dohoda; Slovak: Mníchovská dohoda; German: Münchner Abkommen; French: Accords de Munich) was an agreement regarding the Sudetenland, which were areas along borders of Czechoslovakia, mainly inhabited by Czech Germans. The 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 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, signed by Germany, France, Britain, and Italy permitted German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland was of immense strategic importance to Czechoslovakia, as most of its border defenses were situated there.

Because the state of Czechoslovakia was not invited to the conference, the Munich Agreement is commonly called the Munich Dictate by Czechs and Slovaks (Czech: Mnichovský diktát; Slovak: Mníchovský diktát). The phrase Munich betrayal (Czech: Mnichovská zrada; Slovak: Mníchovská zrada) is also frequently used because military alliances between Czechoslovakia and France were not honored.

Hitler's demands

In March 1938, Germany had annexed Austria with the Anschluss. It was widely expected that Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland, with its substantial German population would be Hitler's next demand. The pro-German Sudeten German Party led by the Nazi politician Konrad Henlein, had been initially campaigning for autonomy within Czechoslovakia. However, as Hitler increasingly gave inflammatory speeches demanding for the German minority in Czechoslovakia to be reunited with their homeland, war seemed more and more likely.On 26 April, the Czech government accepted Henlein's Home Rule demands for the Sudeten Germans and, on 4 August, Lord Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford, met President Beneš and government representatives in Prague. Lord Runciman had been appointed as a "special adviser to the Czechoslovak Government on matters affecting their minorities." Later on, in his report Lord Runciman, claimed tactlessness, lack of understanding, petty intolerance, and discrimination in Czech rule for the last twenty years. However, he also professed confidence that this rule was never actively oppressive and certainly not terroristic. Lord Runciman was later criticized for jumping to conclusions without taking time to comprehend the delicate situation in Czechoslovakia and seeking instead an instant solution, that mostly lay within his superiors' policy of appeasement.

The Czechoslovaks were counting on political and military assistance from the French government during Hitler's reign, as they had an alliance with France. France under the leadership of Édouard Daladier was however unprepared militarily and politically for an offensive war, and the French government was dedicated to solving the crisis without entering a state of war. Czechoslovakia also had a treaty with the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin indicated his willingness to cooperate with France and Great Britain if they decided to come to Czechoslovakia's defense.

Munich сrisis

None of the powers in western Europe wanted war. They severely overestimated the military ability of the German dictator Adolf Hitler at the time. While the armed forces of Britain and France were superior to the German armed forces (Wehrmacht), both nations felt that they had fallen behind, and were undergoing massive military rearmament to catch up. Hitler, on the other hand, was in just the opposite position. He greatly exaggerated German military power at the time and was hoping for a war with the western powers which he thought he could easily win. However, he was persuaded into holding the conference by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini and Italy were unprepared for a Europe-wide conflict. Mussolini was also concerned about the growth of German power. German military leadership also knew the real state of the German armed forces and were doing all they could to avoid war.

Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, met with Hitler in his retreat at Berchtesgaden on 15 September-16 September. They reached a preliminary agreement with Hitler agreeing to take no military action without further discussion, while Chamberlain promised to persuade his Cabinet and the French to accept the results of a plebiscite to be held in the Sudetenland. The French premier, Édouard Daladier, and his foreign minister, Georges Bonnet, met with the British diplomats in London, and issued a joint statement that all areas with a population that was more than 50 percent Sudeten German were to be given to Germany. The Czechoslovak government, which was not consulted initially, rejected the proposal, but was forced to reluctantly accept it on 21 September. This was not enough for Hitler, however; when Chamberlain met Hitler at Godesberg on 22 September, Hitler informed him that the Sudetenland was to be occupied by the German army and the Czechoslovaks had to be evacuated from the area by 28 September. Chamberlain agreed to submit the new proposal to the Czechoslovaks, who rejected it, as did the British Cabinet and the French.

On 23 September, the new Czechoslovak government of Jan Syrový had ordered a general mobilization[1], getting more than one million fully equipped soldiers ready for a German attack. On 24 September, the French ordered a partial mobilization, the first French mobilization since World War I. In a last attempt to avoid war, Chamberlain proposed that a four-power conference be convened immediately to settle the dispute. Despite his desire for war, Hitler agreed and on 29 September, Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier, and Mussolini met in Munich.


A deal was reached on 29 September, and at about 1:30am on 30 September,[2] 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 30th 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".[3] 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".[4]

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 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 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.[5]

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." [6] . 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!" (The fools!)[7] .

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 an Eastern 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.[8]

However, with the release of the Soviet archives, new interpretations suggest that Stalin in fact was upset as he wanted war to go west, not east. He felt Germany could entangle Western Europe to Russia's benefit. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was an astute measure to move Germany west, protect the east momentarily, and Stalin never put any faith in it past that end. (This in direct contradiction to reports that Stalin was literally dumbfounded upon hearing of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, and mental inability to issue orders to the army for several days.)

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 by 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 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.[9]

The Sudeten Germans celebrated what they saw as their liberation. Also the Poles were happy with the outcome. The imminent war, it seemed, had been avoided.

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.[10] In 1937, the Wehrmacht had formulated a plan called Operation Green (Fall Grün) for the invasion of Czechoslovakia[11] 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 Prague 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 would become the next target of Nazi expansionism, which was made apparent by the dispute over the Polish Corridor and the Free City of Danzig. 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 started World War II in Europe.

Quotes from key participants

See also


External links

Notes and References

  1. Records of the Nuremberg trials
  2. Gilbert, Martin and Gott, Richard, The Appeasers (Weidenfeld Goldbacks, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1967), p. 178.
  3. Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, The Inner Circle (Macmillan, 1959), p. 122.
  4. Kirkpatrick, p. 135.
  5. Viscount Maugham, "The Truth about the Munich Crisis", William Heinemann Ltd, 1944.
  6. [William L. Shirer|Shirer, William]
  7. [Jean-Paul Sartre]
  8. Klaus Hildebrand, "Das Dritte Reich". Oldenbourg Grundriss der Geschichte. München 1991, S. 36
  9. Shirer, William L., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
  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