A map showing the location of the
Sudetenland in the 30s.
@ Munich Agreement 1938
Why did Germany want the Sudetenland?
Most of the region’s 3.5 million citizens were ethnic Germans – that is to say, they were German speakers who had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its break up in World War One. Under orders from Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, local branches of the Nazi Party had been stirring up support for unification with Germany.
This movement was known as the “Heim ins Reich” or “Home into the Empire” movement – ironic since the Sudetenland had never belonged to Germany in the first place. The Sudetenland was home to most of Czechoslovakia’s banking, industry, and power plants.
Much of the region was hilly, even mountainous, making it an ideal natural bulwark against any threat of invasion from Germany. The Czechoslovakian government had also heavily fortified the Sudetenland and the rest of the country was virtually defenceless without it. By getting the Western allies to give up of the Sudetenland, they were effectively giving Hitler de facto control of the whole country.
“Our enemies are small worms. I saw them in Munich.” - Adolf Hitler, on signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939
When and where did the Agreement take place?
The agreement was signed on September 19th, 1938 after a discussion called the “Munich Conference”. It took place the day before the signing of the pact in Hitler’s Munich headquarters, the Führerbau. The building is still used today as the Hochschule fur Musik (Music Collage).
At the Munich Agreement 1938. Pic: Wiki
Who was there?
Present at the signing were: British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and his aide Galeazzo Ciano. No Czechoslovakians were invited to discuss the future of their own country.
Sudetenland Germans removing the Czech
name from a sign in the disputed region.
@ Munich Agreement 1938
What happened after the pact was signed?
The Nazis took over the Sudetenland from October 1 to October 10 and put it under military administration. The region’s Jews started feeling the Nazi’s presence right away. Persecution began and synagogues were burned down during the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9, 1938. The region became the most Nazi active area the Third Reich has ever had. At elections on December 4th, 97 per cent of voters chose the Nazi Party. The German Wehrmacht invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia on March 15th, 1938.
Czechoslovakian president Emil Hache was forced into a humiliating surrender. The Munich Agreement gave Hitler the impression that the Western powers were weak and would make large territorial concessions to Germany to avoid war. The Agreement paved the way for the Nazi warlord to invade Poland the following year and the outbreak of World War Two.
What were the reactions in….
...the United Kingdom?
Chamberlain was cheered by the British royal family and public, who wanted to avoid another war with Germany. But the British people quickly turned against him, and Chamberlain’s signing of the Munich Agreement has become known as the single biggest act of appeasement of the 20th century. Winston Churchill damned the Agreement, labelling it a “total and unmitigated defeat”.
Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin crinkled his mighty eyebrow when he heard about the Agreement. Stalin saw it as an affront that he wasn’t invited to the meeting in Munich, as he had believed the Western Allies should have been working with Russia to stem the tide of Nazi expansionism. This led to Stalin turning against France and the United Kingdom and attempt to come to terms with Germany, in turn resulting in the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact of 1938.
Although the ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland were extremely happy, everyone else in the country was shattered. The Czechoslovakian people must have felt that complete Nazi occupation was only days away, and they would have been right. Even today in Slovakia and the Czech Republic the Agreement is still sometimes known as the “Munich Betrayal”.
Find out more about Munich's rich history and traditions at Munich Backstory.
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