The Munich Agreement was an agreement regarding the Munich Crisis between the major powers of Europe after a conference held in Munich in Germany in 1938 and concluded on September 29. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the future of Czechoslovakia and it ended up surrendering much of that state to Nazi Germany. It stands as a major example of appeasement. Because Czechoslovakia was not invited to the conference, the Munich Agreement is commonly called the Munich Dictate by the Czechs. The phrase Munich betrayal is also frequently used, especially because of the military alliances between Czechoslovakia and France and between France and Britain, that were not taken into account.
In March 1938 Germany had annexed Austria, the Anschluss. It was widely known that Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland with its substantial German population, led by the Nazi politician Konrad Henlein, would be Hitler's next demand. France and the Soviet Union both had alliances with the Czechoslovaks, but both were unprepared for war. None of the powers in western Europe wanted war. They severely overestimated Adolf Hitler's military ability at the time, and while Britain and France had superior forces to the Germans they felt they had fallen behind, and both were undergoing massive military rearmament to catch up. Hitler, on the other hand, was in just the opposite position. He far exaggerated German power at the time and was desperately hoping for a war with the west which he thought he could easily win. He was pushed into holding the conference, however, by Benito Mussolini who was totally unprepared for a Europe-wide conflict, and was also concerned about the growth of German power. The German military leadership also knew the state of their armed forces and did all they could to avoid war.
In the lead up to the conference the great powers of Europe mobilised their forces for the first time since World War I. Many thought war was inevitable and that a peace that would satisfy everyone would be impossible.
Chamberlain holds the paper containing the resolution to commit to peaceful methods signed by both Hitler and himself on his return from Germany in September 1938. He said:
My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.
A deal was reached, however, and, meeting on September 29, Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier and Benito Mussolini signed the Munich Agreement. The settlement gave Germany the Sudetenland starting October 10, and de facto control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as Hitler promised to go no further.
Additionally Hitler and Chamberlain signed an additional resolution determing to resolve all future disputes between Germany and the United Kingdom through peaceful means. This is often confused with the Four-Power Munich Agreement itself, not least because most photographs of Chamberlain's return show him waving the paper containing the resolution, not the Munich Agreement himself.
Chamberlain received an ecstatic reception upon his return to Britain. At Heston airport he made the now infamous "peace in our time" speech and waved the agreement to a delighted crowd. Though the British and French were pleased, as were the German military and diplomatic leadership, Hitler was furious. He felt like he had been forced into acting like a bourgeois politician by his diplomats and generals.
Joseph Stalin was also very 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 was also distressed by the readiness of the west to hand over an ally to the Nazis, causing concern that they might do the same to him in the future and influencing his decision to switch his allegiance from an anti-fascist alliance with the British and French to signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, allying the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany.
The Czechs were also less than delighted with the settlement. With Sudetenland gone to Germany and later the area of Cieszyn Silesia retaken by Poland (the disputed area West of Olza river, so called Zaolzie - 906 kmē, 258,000 inhabitants), Czecho-Slovakia (as the state was now renamed) lost its border defenses with Germany and without them its independence became more nominal than real. In March 1939 any hope that Chamberlain's words would be true came to an end as the Nazis proceeded to occupy the remainder of Bohemia and Moravia, while the eastern half of the country, Slovakia, became an independent state, dominated by Germany.
Prime Minister Chamberlain felt betrayed by the Nazi seizure of Czechoslovakia (which effectively invalidated the Munich Agreement), and immediately began to mobilize the British Empire's armed forces on a war footing. France did the same. Though no immediate action followed, Hitler's next move on Poland made war inevitable and World War II commenced.
- The Munich Agreement (http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/munich1.htm) - Text of the Munich Agreement on-line
- British Pathe newsreel (includes Chamberlain's speech at Heston aerodrome) (http://www.britishpathe.com/thumbnails.php?id=31124)