Czechoslovakia: ‘That senile old rascal.’

Benes protested but was firmly reminded that no one would go to war over Czechoslovakia. The triumphant Chamberlain, meanwhile, returned to Britain, waving the infamous piece of paper in his hand, declaring that the Munich Agreement had guaranteed ‘peace for our time’. Two days after the conference, on 1 October, the German army marched into the Sudetenland. Hitler, however, was far from satisfied with the outcome of Munich: ‘That senile old rascal Chamberlain,’ he complained, ‘has ruined my entry into Prague.’

In the immediate aftermath of Munich, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Romania fell over themselves to sign various treaties and trade agreements with Germany. Poland, however, did not. Hitler wanted the return of Danzig which, as part of the Treaty of Versailles, had become part of Poland. But Poland held her ground and refused.

Over five months after occupying the Sudetenland, Hitler still considered the rest of Czechoslovakia as unfinished business. On 15 March 1939, he threatened and bullied the new Czechoslovakian president, Emil Hácha, until Hácha was forced to declare that he would ‘confidently place the fate of the Czech people and country in the hands of the Führer and of the German Reich’. That same day, Hitler and his army marched into Prague to ‘restore order’. Hitler was driven through the streets of the capital past rows of silent and glum spectators (pictured below). Unlike Austria, there were no cheering crowds, no waving of flags. Britain and France failed to honour the agreement made at Munich nearly six months before, refusing to be drawn in, stating that Hacha had effectively invited Hitler in.


Nazis enter Czechoslovakia, March 1939

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2004-0813-500 / CC-BY-SA

Up to the invasion of Czechoslovakia the British and French governments were able to persuade themselves that Hitler had only acted on behalf of German speakers – the Rhineland, Saar, in Austria and the Sudetenland. After March 1939, however, they could no longer hide behind this falsehood – Hitler had no right to invade Czechoslovakia. Appeasement was dead and Hitler was not a man to trust.

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