Munich Pact of 1938

Munich Pact of 1938

 

an agreement on the partition of Czechoslovakia signed in Munich on September 29 by the heads of the governments of Great Britain (N. Chamberlain), France (E. Daladier), fascist Germany (A. Hitler), and fascist Italy (B. Mussolini). The Munich Pact was concluded in an atmosphere of undisguised military and political pressure on Czechoslovakia by fascist Germany. After Germany’s occupation of Austria in March 1938 this pressure became more intense and was accompanied by heightened activity of the Hitlerite network of agents in Czechoslovakia.

A number of major steps led immediately to the preparation of the Munich Pact. On Apr. 24, 1938, Henlein’s fascist Sudeten German Party (Sudetendeutsche Partei), acting on Hitler’s directives, made demands that, in essence, required Czechoslovakia to renounce its sovereignty over the Sudetenland. Various maneuvers by the British and French were aimed at justifying before public opinion the deal that was being arranged with the aggressor and at persuading Czechoslovakia to capitulate (the Runciman mission of 1938). A rebellion by the Sudetenland fascists on September 13 was put down by the armed forces of Czechoslovakia. At the Berchtesgaden meeting on Sept. 15, 1938, Chamberlain agreed in principle to Hitler’s demands that the Czechoslovak border regions be transferred to Germany. An Anglo-French ultimatum (September 18) demanding the transfer of part of Czechoslovakia to Germany was accepted by Czechoslovak president E. Beneŝ on September 21. On September 22, Chamberlain met with Hitler in Bad Godesberg to discuss the German government’s new demands, which were even more oppressive for Czechoslovakia.

In view of the rising threat of fascist aggression, the government of the USSR resolutely supported Czechoslovakia and carried out large-scale military measures aimed at rendering, if necessary, immediate and effective help to the victim of aggression. Calling on the Western powers to forestall aggression through collective action, the government of the USSR repeatedly declared its readiness to fulfill its obligations under the Soviet-Czechoslovak Pact of 1935, which provided for Soviet aid to Czechoslovakia in case of an aggression against that country, on the condition that France would also render aid. Furthermore, the USSR was willing to support Czechoslovakia even in the absence of French support, if Czechoslovakia would resist the aggression and ask for help. Contrary to the demands of democratic forces, the Czechoslovak bourgeois government, which was well acquainted with the Soviet Union’s position but was guided by narrow class interests, refrained from accepting assistance from the country of victorious socialism.

In this situation, Hitler, encouraged by the conciliatory attitude of the Western powers, demanded that Czechoslovakia accept his new proposals, which were confirmed by all the parties to the Munich Pact, with the behind-the-scenes support of the USA, at a conference held on September 29–30.

The Munich Pact provided for the transfer to Germany, between Oct. 1 and Oct. 10, 1938, of the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia, with all its installations and fortifications, factories, plants, raw material reserves, and means of transportation. The territorial claims of Hungary and Poland were to be satisfied at the expense of Czechoslovakia within three months. The parties to the pact were to provide “guarantees” of Czechoslovakia’s new frontiers against unprovoked aggression. The hollowness of these guarantees was demonstrated when German troops invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939. On September 30 the Czechoslovak government accepted the Munich dictates without the consent of the National Assembly.

The pact signed in Munich was among the clearest manifestations of the policy of appeasement pursued by the governments of Great Britain and France on the eve of World War II. This policy was directed at reaching an accord with the aggressive states, particularly fascist Germany, at the expense of the countries of Central and Southeastern Europe. It was also designed to divert fascist aggression away from Great Britain and France and direct it toward the East against the Soviet Union. The statesmen who pursued this policy intended to crush or weaken the might of the USSR with the forces of the states of the fascist bloc and to weaken the latter by using the military might of the USSR. This policy was consistently supported by the USA.

The Munich Pact, which was imposed on Czechoslovakia by force and in violation of international and Czechoslovak law, was an important landmark in the events leading to World War II. After the war Czechoslovakia, supported by the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, demanded that the unlawful Munich Pact be recognized as having been invalid from the outset. In a treaty signed in December 1973, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany declared the Munich Pact “in view of their mutual obligations stemming from the present treaty, null and void.”

SOURCES

Dokumenty i materialy kanuna vtoroi mirovoi voiny, vol. 1. Moscow, 1948.
Novye dokumenty iz istorii Miunkhena. Moscow, 1958.
Mnichov v documentech, 2 vols. Prague, 1958.
“Dogovor o vzaimnykh otnosheniiakh mezhdu Chekhoslovatskoi Sotsialisticheskoi Respublikoi i Federativnoi Respublikoi Germanii.” Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn’, 1974, no. 2.

REFERENCES

Istoriia vneshnei politiki SSSR, part 1: 1917–1945 gg. Moscow, 1966.
Ovsianyi, I. D. Taina, v kotoroi voina rozhdalas’, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1975.
Wheeler-Benett J. Munich: Prologue to Tragedy. London, 1963.
Parkinson, R. Peace for Our Time. London, 1971.

I. D. OSTOIA-OVSIANYI

References in periodicals archive ?
It is especially fascinating in view of the fact that the Munich Pact of 1938 had dismembered Czechoslovakia, which rendered the Czechs powerless to stop the Poles, who, as one of the beneficiaries of the Munich Pact, seized the Teschen province of Czechoslovakia in October 1938.
Although the Munich Pact of 1938 permitted German occupation and annexation of the Sudetenland into the Nazi Reich, this act of cowardice by Great Britain and France ultimately paved the way for the outbreak of the Second World War one year later, with all the tragic consequences that conflagration entailed for the Jewish people, among others.