The Munich Pact was an agreement permitting the Nazi German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland were areas along Czech borders, mainly inhabited by ethnic Germans. The agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munich, Germany, among the major powers of Europe without the presence of Czechoslovakia. Today, it is widely regarded as a failed act of appeasement toward Nazi Germany. 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 the Sudetenland in the face of territorial demands made by Adolf Hitler. The agreement was signed by Nazi Germany, France, the United Kingdom, 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, Czechs and Slovaks call the Munich Agreement the Munich Dictate (Czech: Mnichovský diktát; Slovak: Mníchovský diktát). The phrase Munich Betrayal (Czech: Mnichovská zrada; Slovak: Mníchovská zrada) is also used because the military alliance Czechoslovakia had with France and United Kingdom was not honoured. Today the document is typically referred to simply as the Munich Pact (Mnichovská dohoda).
See main article: Germans in Czechoslovakia (1918-1938).
Sudeten German pro-Nazi leader Konrad Henlein offered the Sudeten German Party (SdP) as the agent for Hitler's campaign. Henlein met with Hitler in Berlin on March 28, 1938, where he was instructed to raise demands unacceptable to the Czechoslovak government led by president Edvard Beneš. On April 24, the SdP issued the Carlsbad Decrees, eight demands including autonomy for the Sudetenland and the freedom to profess Nazi ideology. If Henlein's demands were granted, the Sudetenland would then be able to align itself with Nazi Germany.
As the previous appeasement of Hitler had shown, the governments of both France and the United Kingdom were set on avoiding war at any cost. The French government did not wish to face Nazi Germany alone and took its lead from the British government and its Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain believed that Sudeten German grievances were justified and that Hitler's intentions were limited. Both Britain and France, therefore, advised Czechoslovakia to concede to the Nazi demands. Beneš resisted and on May 20 a partial mobilization was underway in response to possible German invasion. May 20 saw Hitler present his Generals with an interim draft for an attack on Czechoslovakia codenamed Operation Green, whereby he insisted that he would not "smash Czechoslovakia" militarily without "provocation, "a particularly favourable opportunity" or "adequate political justification". On May 28, Hitler called a meeting of his service chiefs where he ordered an acceleration of U-boat construction and brought forward the construction of his first two battle ships, Bismarck and Tirpitz, to spring 1940, and demanded the increase in the firepower of the pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau be accelerated . While accepting that this would be insufficient for a full scale naval war with Britain, Hitler hoped it would be a sufficient deterrent. Ten days later, Hitler signed a secret directive for war against Czechoslovakia to begin no later than October 1. However, his adjutant, Fritz Wiedemann, recalled after the war that he was "very shocked" by Hitler's new plans to attack Britain and France 3-4 years after "deal[ing] with the situation" in Czechoslovakia. General Ludwig Beck, chief of the German general staff, noted that Hitler's change of heart in favour of quick action were due to Czech defences still being improvised, which would cease to be the case 2-3 years later, and British rearmament not coming into effect until 1941/2. General Alfred Jodl noted in his diary that the partial Czech mobilisation of May 21 had led Hitler to issue a new order for Operation Green on May 30, and that this was accompanied by a covering letter from Keitel stating that the plan must be implemented by October 1 at the very latest.
In the meantime, the British government demanded that Beneš request a mediator. Not wishing to sever his government's ties with Western Europe, Beneš reluctantly accepted. The British appointed Lord Runciman, the former Liberal cabinet minister, who arrived in Prague on August 3rd with instructions to persuade Beneš to agree to a plan acceptable to the Sudeten Germans. On July 20, Bonnet told the Czech Ambassador in Paris that while France would declare her support in public to help the Czech negotiations, it was not prepared to go to war over the Sudetenland question. During August the German press was full of stories alleging Czech atrocities against Sudeten Germans, with the intention of forcing the Western Powers into putting pressure on the Czech to make concessions. Hitler hoped the Czech would refuse and that the Western Powers would then feel morally justified in leaving the Czechs to their fate. However, much to Hitler's annoyance, on September 4th or 5th, Beneš submitted the Fourth Plan, granting nearly all the demands of the Munich Agreement. The Sudeten Germans were under instruction from Hitler to avoid a compromise, and after the SdP held demonstrations that provoked police action in Ostrava on September 7 in which two of their parliamentary deputies were arrested, the Sudeten Germans used this incident and false allegations of other atrocities as an excuse to break off further negotiations. On September 12 Hitler held a rally at Nuremberg where he promised Germans in Czechoslovakia would not be left defenceless, and on September 13, after violence and disruption ensued, Chamberlain asked Hitler for a personal meeting to find a solution before it was too late. As Czechoslovak troops attempted to restore order on September 15, Henlein flew to Germany and issued a proclamation demanding the takeover of the Sudetenland by Germany.
On the same day, Hitler met with Chamberlain and demanded the swift takeover of the Sudetenland by the Third Reich under threat of war. The Czechs, Hitler claimed, were slaughtering the Sudeten Germans. Chamberlain referred the demand to the British and French governments; both accepted. The Czechoslovak government resisted, arguing that Hitler's proposal would ruin the nation's economy and lead ultimately to German control of all of Czechoslovakia. The United Kingdom and France issued an ultimatum, making a French commitment to Czechoslovakia contingent upon acceptance. On September 21, Czechoslovakia capitulated. The next day, however, Hitler added new demands, insisting that the claims of ethnic Germans in Poland and Hungary also be satisfied.
The Czechoslovak capitulation precipitated an outburst of national indignation. In demonstrations and rallies, Czechs and Slovaks called for a strong military government to defend the integrity of the state. A new cabinet, under General Jan Syrový, was installed and on September 23 a decree of general mobilization was issued. The Czechoslovak army, modern and possessing an excellent system of frontier fortifications, was prepared to fight. The Soviet Union announced its willingness to come to Czechoslovakia's assistance. Beneš, however, refused to go to war without the support of the Western powers.
On September 28, Chamberlain appealed to Hitler for a conference. Hitler met the next day, at Munich, with the chiefs of governments of France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The Czechoslovak government was neither invited nor consulted.
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 Nazi Germany alone or submit to the prescribed annexations. The Czechoslovak government, realizing the hopelessness of fighting the Nazis 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.
Though the British and French were pleased, as were the Nazi military and German diplomatic leadership, Hitler was furious. He felt as though he had been forced into acting like a bourgeois politician by his diplomats and generals. He exclaimed furiously soon after the meeting with Chamberlain: "Gentlemen, this has been my first international conference and I can assure you that it will be my last". 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 the 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." In one of his public speeches after Munich, Hitler declared: "Thank God we have no umbrella politicians in this country".
Joseph Stalin was also upset by the results of the Munich conference. The Soviets, who had a mutual military assistance treaty with Czechoslovakia, felt betrayed by France, which also had a mutual military assistance treaty with Czechoslovakia. 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, 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 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 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.
In Germany, the decision preempted a potential revolt by senior Army officers against Hitler. Hitler's determination to go through with his plan for the invasion of all Czechoslovakia in 1938 had 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 Kräfteberechnungen" ("childish force 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 they both 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.
The population had expected imminent war and the "statesman-like gesture" of Chamberlain was at first greeted with acclaim. This generally positive reaction, however, quickly soured. 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. But there was opposition from the start; Clement Attlee and the Labour Party opposed the agreement, in alliance with two Conservative MPs, Duff Cooper and Vyvyan Adams who had been seen, up to then as a die hard and reactionary element in 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 book 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 Hungarian 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.
Édouard Daladier believed he saw Hitler's ultimate goals as a threat. 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 traumatised 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!").
In 1960, William Shirer in his classic - The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - took the view that although Hitler was not bluffing about his intention to invade, Czechoslovakia would have been able to offer significant resistance. He believed that Britain and France had sufficient air defences to avoid serious bombing of London and Paris and would have been able to pursue a rapid and successful war against Germany. He quotes Churchill as saying the Munich agreement meant that "Britain and France were in a much worse position compared to Hitler's Germany".
On October 5, Beneš resigned as President of Czechoslovakia, realising that the fall of Czechoslovakia was fait accompli. Following the outbreak of World War II, he would form a Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London.
See main article: First Vienna Award.
In early November 1938, under the first Vienna Award, which was a result of the Munich agreement, Czechoslovakia (and later Slovakia) — after it had failed to reach a compromise with Hungary and Poland — was forced by Germany and Italy to cede southern Slovakia (one third of Slovak territory) to Hungary, while Poland gained small territorial cessions shortly after.
As a result, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia lost about 38% of their combined area to Germany, with some 3.2 million German and 750,000 Czech inhabitants. Hungary, in turn, received 11882km2 in southern Slovakia and southern Ruthenia; according to a 1941 census, about 86.5% of the population in this territory was Hungarian. Meanwhile Poland annexed the town of Český Těšín with the surrounding area (some 906km2, some 250,000 inhabitants, Poles made about 36% of population) and two minor border areas in northern Slovakia, more precisely in the regions Spiš and Orava. (226km2, 4,280 inhabitants, only 0.3% Poles).
Soon after Munich, 115,000 Czechs and 30,000 Germans fled to the remaining rump of Czechoslovakia. According to the Institute for Refugee Assistance, the actual count of refugees on March 1, 1939 stood at almost 150,000.
On 4 December 1938, there were elections in Reichsgau Sudetenland, in which 97.32% of the adult population voted for NSDAP. About a half million Sudeten Germans joined the Nazi Party which was 17.34% of the German population in Sudetenland (the average NSDAP participation in Nazi Germany was 7.85%). This means the Sudetenland was the most "pro-Nazi" region in the Third Reich.
Because of their knowledge of the Czech language, many Sudeten Germans were employed in the administration of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as well as in Nazi organizations (Gestapo, etc.). The most notable was Karl Hermann Frank: the SS and Police general and Secretary of State in the Protectorate.
See main article: German occupation 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.
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 (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 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, realizing 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 invasion of Poland on September 1 officially began World War II.
Non-negligible industrial potential and military equipment of the former Czechoslovakia had been efficiently absorbed in to the Third Reich.
Later that day he stood outside 10 Downing Street and again read from the document and concluded:
During the Second World War, British Prime Minister Churchill, who opposed the agreement when it was signed, became determined that the terms of the agreement would not be upheld after the war and that the Sudeten territories should be returned to postwar Czechoslovakia. On August 5, 1942, Foreign Minister Anthony Eden sent the following note to Jan Masaryk:
To which Masaryk replied as follows:
Following Allied victory and the surrender of the Third Reich in 1945, the Sudetenland was returned to Czechoslovakia, while the German speaking majority was expelled, sometimes killed.
During the Cold War, Chamberlain's agreement at Munich again resurfaced, with prominent anti-communists arguing that the United States could not duplicate his perceived mistakes by "appeasing" the Soviet Union. .
. harv. Shirer, William L.. William L. Shirer. The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940. 1969. De Capo Press.
. harv. Viscoumt Maugham. Frederic Maugham, 1st Viscount Maugham. The Truth about the Munich Crisis. William Heinemann Ltd. 1944.
. harv. Herzstein, Robert Edwin. Robert E. Herzstein. The Nazis. World War II series. Time-Life Books. New York. 1980.