Why did Neville Chamberlain believe in appeasement?

Background current

On September 29, 1938, the heads of state and government from Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain met to negotiate the end of the "Sudeten crisis". An "appeasement policy" was supposed to secure peace in Europe at the expense of Czechoslovakia. A historical mistake.

Munich Agreement: (from left to right) British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano, September 29, 1938. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

When Czechoslovakia came into being after the end of the First World War in 1918, numerous different ethnic groups lived in the newly founded state: Czechs and Slovaks, the Hungarians mainly residing in southern Slovakia, various East Slavic peoples in Carpathian Ukraine and a few Poles, Romanians and Croats. The largest minority were the roughly three million Sudeten Germans. After Austria was "annexed" to the German Reich in March 1938, the areas of the Sudeten Germans bordered the German Reich almost without exception.

How the "Sudeten Crisis" came about

Konrad Henlein was a key figure in the run-up to the so-called Sudenten crisis. In 1933 he founded the group "Sudeten German Home Front", which, under pressure from the Czechoslovak government, had to rename itself to "Sudeten German Party" two years later because of the national connotation of the name. Parts of the group were in contact with the NSDAP in Germany from the beginning, at the latest from 1937 onwards they openly acknowledged National Socialism and demanded more autonomy from the Czechoslovak government for the minority of the Sudeten Germans.

Hitler used the "Sudeten German Party" as an instrument: on the instructions of the National Socialists, the "Sudeten German Party" adopted its "Karlsbader Program" in March 1938, which demanded extensive autonomy rights for the German-speaking settlement area. From Berlin's point of view, however, the program was only a transitional stage for the desired complete dissolution of the Czechoslovak state. The National Socialists exploited the tensions between the German minority and the Czechoslovak government for propaganda purposes.

With reference to the "right to self-determination" of the German minority, Hitler repeatedly demanded the cession of the Sudeten German territories and threatened military force. The Hoßbach Protocol, which summarizes a meeting between Hitler and some of his ministers in the Reich Chancellery on November 5, 1937, shows that Hitler had the plan early on to want to use Czechoslovakia for his territorial expansion policy and the country for this reason also to attack militarily. He reckoned Britain and France would not protect Czechoslovakia. The minutes say literally: "The Führer believes that there is a high probability that England, but probably also France, would have quietly written off the Czech Republic and resigned themselves to the fact that this question would one day be settled by Germany."

Conscious escalation tactics

The National Socialists brought about the "Sudeten Crisis" so deliberately. In his closing speech at the Nazi party rally on September 12, 1938, Hitler accused the Czechoslovak government of "outrageous abuse" against the German minority and claimed that the Sudeten Germans had been declared "outlawed" by the state and that the Czechs "raped and tortured". In his speech, Hitler mocked democracy in Czechoslovakia and announced to the cheers of the party conference attendees that his government was "not indifferent" to the fate of the Sudeten Germans.

In Great Britain, the idea of ​​a policy of "appeasement" found a prominent supporter in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. This was based on the assumption that there is an interplay between peaceful "moderates" and bellicose "extremists" in Germany's foreign policy. With a policy of concessions, Chamberlain wanted to encourage the more "moderates" in their political confrontation with the "extremists".

Negotiations without Czechoslovakia

While Chamberlain was still holding initial talks about a solution to the "Sudeten Crisis", Sudeten German Freikorps occupied the border towns of Eger and Asch. On September 22, 1938, Chamberlain offered at the Godesberg Conference to give in to Hitler's demand for the cession of the areas in which the majority of Germans lived. But Hitler expanded his demands, among other things, the evacuation periods of the Sudeten German areas should be shortened. France and Czechoslovakia responded with military mobilization. And Germany also let divisions advance. The danger of war was in the air again.

On the mediation of Italy, Hitler, Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and the French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier met on September 29 for the Munich Conference, at which the Munich Agreement was signed on the night of September 30. Czechoslovakia, whose future was being negotiated, was not invited.

The agreement was a joint agreement between Germany, Great Britain, Italy and France on the principles of the, literally, "cession of the Sudeten German territory" to the German Reich. Many Sudeten Germans were enthusiastic, they felt that they had been massively disadvantaged in the newly founded state. The self-government promised by the Czechoslovak government was actually never granted, numerous German-speaking civil servants were replaced by Czechs in the civil service, and unemployment was particularly high in the Sudeten region.

Further territorial claims

The "evacuation" of the Sudetenland had to begin on October 1, 1938 (Article 1). Italy, Great Britain and France agreed that this "evacuation" should be completed by the Czechoslovak government by October 10, "without the destruction of any existing facilities" (Article 2).

The Munich Agreement marked the beginning of the end of the first Czechoslovak Republic. On October 2nd, Poland occupied the Olsa area around Teschen. The economically important city (Polish: Cieszyn, Czech: Těšín) was divided after the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and a brief border war between Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Hungary, in turn, claimed southern Slovakia and the Carpathian Ukraine for itself. Germany took advantage of the demands and, together with Italy, brokered the so-called "First Vienna Arbitration Award" of November 2, 1938, in which the division of Slovakia and the Carpathian Ukraine was decided: those areas that were in the last Austro-Hungarian census of 1910 showed a Hungarian majority, should be ceded by Czechoslovakia.

It took only six months before the Munich Agreement was broken

In Germany, however, there were already plans to militarily occupy the "rest of the Czech Republic". On the morning of March 15, 1939, German troops marched into the Czech Republic in breach of the Munich Agreement and disarmed the local army.

The occupation of the "remaining Czech Republic" also marked the failure of the British appeasement policy: Hitler had by no means allowed himself to be appeased by concessions.

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