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Munich Agreement

Munich Agreement

The Munich Agreement is a settlement signed by Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy on September 30, 1938, that forced Czechoslovakia to surrender its border regions and defenses (the Sudeten region) to Nazi Germany.

Overview

After successfully annexing Austria to Germany in March 1938, Adolf Hitler turned his attention to Czechoslovakia, where approximately 3 million people in parts of northern and western Bohemia and northern Moravia (Sudetenland) were of German origin. In April 1938, he discussed plans of the takeover (codenamed Case Green) with Wilhelm Keitel, the head of the German Armed Forces High Command. A surprise attack without any cause or possibility of justification was rejected since it risked a hostile response from other nations and could potentially compromise Germany.

It was decided that action could only be taken following a period of political agitation by the Germans inside Czechoslovakia, along with a deliberate diplomatic disagreement which, as it gained in scale, would either yield an excuse for war or produce the opportunity for an offensive in the wake of an incident fabricated by the Germans. Moreover, disruptive political activities inside Czechoslovakia had been underway since as early as October 1933, when Konrad Henlein founded the Sudetendeutsche Heimatfront (Sudeten-German Home Front).

Primary source transcript

The following is a direct transcript of the agreement signed at Munich by Adolf Hitler, Édouard Daladier, Benito Mussolini, and Neville Chamberlain:

Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, taking into consideration the agreement, which has been already 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 fulfilment: 1) The evacuation will begin on 1st October. 2) The United Kingdom, France and Italy agree that the evacuation of the territory shall be completed by the 10th October, 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. (3) The conditions governing the evacuation will be laid down in detail by an international commission composed of representatives of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Czechoslovakia. (4) The occupation by stages of the predominantly German territory by German troops will begin on 1st October. The four territories marked on the attached map will be occupied by German troops in the following order: The territory marked No. I on the 1st and 2nd of October; the territory marked No. II on the 2nd and 3rd of October; the territory marked No. III on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of October; the territory marked No. IV on the 6th and 7th of October. The remaining territory of preponderantly German character will be ascertained by the aforesaid international commission forthwith and be occupied by German troops by the 10th of October. (5) The international commission referred to in paragraph 3 will determine the territories in which a plebiscite is to be held. These territories will be occupied by international bodies until the plebiscite has been completed. The same commission will fix the conditions in which the plebiscite is to be held, taking as a basis the conditions of the Saar plebiscite. The commission will also fix a date, not later than the end of November, on which the plebiscite will be held. (6) The final determination of the frontiers will be carried out by the international commission. The commission will also be entitled to recommend to the four Powers, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, in certain exceptional cases, minor modifications in the strictly ethnographical determination of the zones which are to be transferred without plebiscite. (7) There will be a 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 four 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 offences. Adolf Hitler Ed. Daladier Mussolini Neville Chamberlain Munich, September 29, 1938.
Erich Kordt's account of the Munich Agreement meeting

Erich Kordt, a German diplomat involved in the German Resistance to the Nazi regime, described how the meeting progressed. Reportedly, it was first agreed at Mussolini's suggestion that the Italian proposal submitted to the delegations in the morning should be discussed point by point. According to Kordt, the proposal's first point was at once agreed to unanimously. Regarding the second point, Prime Minister Chamberlain agreed to the proposed date of the evacuation's completion; however, he doubted the feasibility of giving Germany any guarantees as long as Czechoslovakia's attitude to the question of evacuation was unknown to him.

Auxiliary document of the Munich Agreement with Neville Chamberlain's and Adolf Hitler's signatures.

Regarding the question of obtaining Czechoslovakia's agreement prior to making the guarantee delineated in the proposal, Daladier declared that it did not seem necessary to him. In spite of the Franco-Czech pact, he had agreed with Great Britain to the proposition of Czechoslovakia's cession of territory without first consulting the Czechoslovak government and adopted the view that what had once been agreed to must be realized. Regarding the Anglo-French guarantee, Daladier also rejected the Czechoslovak objection discussed earlier, that the evacuation could only be set in motion when new defenses had been installed on Czech territory.

An evacuation of the exclusively German area could thus be organized quickly, and it was expected that difficulties would only arise in areas where language enclaves were present. It seemed to Daladier that in this district, an international occupation by British, Italian, and French forces was appropriate. Moreover, in his opinion, geographical, economic, and political realities should be taken into consideration. Regarding the language enclaves, it was proposed that the principle of population exchange employed in Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Poland could be applied.

According to Kordt's report, Hitler agreed that districts with a doubtful German majority should not be occupied by German troops but should initially be occupied by international units. If point number two were accepted, he was prepared to make concessions in determining the frontier where territory was concerned. Daladier's proposition that economic, geographical, and political factors should too be considered in delimiting the frontier seemed to him perilous since it was this very idea that the Czechoslovak State was founded on in 1918, resulting in the creation of a structure that was viable economically but not nationally. Moreover, Hitler opined that economic difficulties were easier to overcome than national difficulties, and more so as Czechoslovakia, which was not an old cultural nation, could have difficulty assimilating German elements.

Photograph portraying Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini before signing the Munich Agreement

At a certain point, the meeting divided into individual talks aided by maps, the subject of which were the zones to be evacuated and the area in which a plebiscite was to be held. Throughout these discussions, Daladier proposed the exchange of a relatively large zone of predominantly German territory on the Silesian frontier in which Czech fortifications were situated for a corresponding strip of Czech territory in the Bohmerwald, assuring that the presence of the Czech fortifications was not the chief reason for this proposal, but that he was putting it forward on the grounds of communication policy and for psychological reasons.

Hitler rejected this proposal on account of the exclusively German character of the territory concerned, but following lengthy negotiations, he became willing to accept a formula on frontier adjustments that appears in the text of the agreement (paragraph 6 of the Munich Agreement). Daladier thanked Hitler for this concession and stated that the acceptance of the formula would significantly relieve France's position. He would later report in France that Hitler had made this personal gesture to him.

Adolf Hitler pictured greeting Neville Chamberlain upon the British Prime Minister's arrival in Munich, Germany, on September 29, 1938

The decisions reached through the individual discussions between the statesmen were subsequently drawn up by a drafting committee of the Four Powers in collaboration with the legal advisers of the delegations and submitted for the first reading at approximately 10 pm. The final text of the agreement was turned in at 11 pm and signed in four languages between 11 and 12 pm.

Auxiliary propositions

The following propositions were also accepted:

  • A supplementary statement originating in a suggestion by Mussolini on the solution of the problem of the Polish and Magyar minorities
  • An additional agreement on a guarantee to be given for the new frontiers of the Czech State
  • A supplement stating that all questions arising out of the transfer of territory were within the competence of the new international committee, which was to be formed, as well as a further supplement on the composition of the international commission in Berlin
Conclusion

At the end, Hitler thanked the foreign statesmen for accepting his invitation to Munich for the conference and for their efforts to reach a consensus in the negotiations. Hitler stressed his belief that the German people, as well as all other people concerned, would be very happy with the result. Chamberlain responded on behalf of the foreign statesmen and joined with Hitler's remarks regarding the concerned people's satisfaction with the outcome of the talks held at Munich. Moreover, he highlighted the significance of the agreement for the future development of European politics.

Neville Chamberlain's involvement

Chamberlain had gone to Germany twice in September 1938 to discuss the situation with Hitler, at Berchtesgaden and then at Bad Godesberg, where Hitler demanded prompt German annexation of the Sudetenland and that all the Germans in other regions of Czechoslovakia should be permitted to join the Third Reich. On September 20th, Chamberlain informed the Hungarian prime minister of his certainty that the British and the French would do nothing effective, which proved correct.

Czech representatives were not invited to attend the conference. Although Chamberlain had requested for the Czech ambassador to Berlin to come to Munich as an advisor, he was not permitted to be in a room with Hitler. On the night of September 28th, a Czech government statement was issued that agreed to relinquish Czech territory where 50 percent or more of the population was German but refused the demand for a plebiscite in areas with no German majority.

Overall, Hitler accomplished his goal of dominating Central Europe at Munich, and German troops made their way into the Sudetenland on the night of October 1st. General Sirovy, the Czech premier, lamented the result on a radio broadcast:

I am fulfilling the most painful duty which can ever have fallen upon me, a duty which is worse than dying ... the forces arrayed against us oblige us to recognize their superiority and act accordingly.

In Germany, Josef Goebbels commemorated his nation's success:

We have all walked on a thin tightrope over a dizzy abyss ... The world is filled with a frenzy of joy. Germany’s prestige has grown enormously. Now we are really a world power again.

As part of the agreement, all Czechoslovakian territory with a predominantly German population was to be ceded by October 10th. Since Poland and Hungary occupied other parts of the country, within several months, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, and what remained of Slovakia had been turned into a German puppet state.

After Chamberlain left Munich, Hitler reportedly stated, "if ever that silly old man comes interfering here again with his umbrella, I’ll kick him downstairs." The French and British premiers returned home in premature triumph and were met with warm welcomes from their peoples, who were relieved that war had likely been prevented. Shortly after his return, Chamberlain appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace accompanied by George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the plaudits of the crowd below before heading to Downing Street, where he told the admiring throng, "I believe it is peace for our time." This statement soon proved to be one of the most famous misjudgments in history.

Timeline

Further Resources

Title
Author
Link
Type
Date

Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945, from the Archives of the German Foreign Ministry

United States Department of State

Web

1949

References

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