British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain traveled twice to the continent in the aftermath of Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938 to appease Germany’s aggressive intentions and prevent another destructive European war, but his efforts were unsuccessful. The Soviet Union had promised to intervene, but only if France acted first. Czechoslovakia remained exposed and vulnerable despite negotiating treaties with France in 1926 and the Soviet Union in 1935 to protect itself against German aggression.
The Little Entente of Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia did not use their contemporaneous agreements to defend themselves against any aggression by Hungary. Czechoslovakian Germans resisted Prague rule, led by Konrad Henlein, who had the full support of the National Socialists in Berlin and called for Sudetenland to be unified with Germany. Two months after Hitler annexed Austria, German troops prepared to cross the border in May 1938, and the situation became increasingly tense. President Edvard Beneš was approached by the ambassadors of France and Great Britain on September 19, asking for the handover of the Sudetenland to Germany. The note demanded that the Czechoslovak Republic hand over its Sudeten territories to Germany to prevent an immediate Wehrmacht occupation. Czechoslovakia mobilized its army and air force once more on September 23 in a desperate gesture. Benito Mussolini, Hitler’s ally, then proposed a four-power meeting to resolve the Czechoslovak crisis.
German, British, French, and Italian representatives attended the 1938 Munich conference, but the Czechoslovak delegation was absent. The agreement signed by Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, and Mussolini conceded to all of Germany’s demands. Upon uniting the Sudetenland with Germany on October 1, the Czechoslovak Republic lost a significant part of its historical territory, its principal fortifications against Germany, and its iron, steel, and textile factories. Further, with the loss of the Sudetenland came the threat of further losses of border territories in the east that Poland and Hungary coveted. On September 30, Czechoslovakia capitulated a week after mobilizing.
Following the incorporation of the Sudetenland into Germany on October 1, 1938, the rest of Czechoslovakia was left weak. Moreover, a small area of the borderland region known as Zaolzie was occupied by Poland and annexed due to previous territorial claims (Czech-Polish disputes in the years 1918–20). Furthermore, Hungary obtained the southern territories of Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia, which were primarily inhabited by Hungarians, as part of the First Vienna Award. On the same day that the Slovak State was declared, Hungary occupied and annexed the remainder of Carpathian Ruthenia. The Czech Prime Minister asked the German Wehrmacht to defend the remainder of the Czech lands after he feared a Hungarian invasion. German troops entered the remaining Czechoslovak territories on March 15, meeting practically no resistance (the only organized resistance was in Mistek, where an infantry company commanded by Karel Pavlík fought the invading Germans).
Hungary’s invasion of Carpatho-Ukraine met resistance, but the army quickly crushed it. Hitler went to Czech lands on March 16 and proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate from Prague Castle. Unlike Hitler’s previous actions, the annexation of the rest of Czechoslovakia was not described in Mein Kampf, despite violating his promises at Munich. Germany had now conquered seven million Czechs despite repeatedly asserting his interest in pan-Germanism, the unification of ethnic Germans into one Reich. Hitler claimed in his declaration that “Bohemia and Moravia have been the Lebensraum of the German people for thousands of years.” After the invasion, British public opinion changed drastically. Chamberlain understood that Hitler had no intention of keeping the Munich Agreement. Chamberlain said that Hitler was trying “to dominate the world by force” during a speech in Birmingham on March 17.
By 1939, Germany’s military production had shifted to Czechoslovakia, producing aircraft, tanks, artillery, and other armaments. Germany occupied Hungary in March 1944 during Operation Margarethe, and Slovakia suffered a similar fate in August 1944 with the Slovak National Uprising. Following World War II, Germany surrendered, ending the occupation. In the period of German occupation, between 294,000 and 320,000 citizens (including Jews, who constituted most of the casualties) were murdered.
On his arrival back in England on September 15, 1938, following the signing of the Munich Pact, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain speaks to the assembled crowd at the airfield. He declared that the agreement with Hitler and the other Axis leaders would ensure "peace in our time." The Pact surrendered the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany, and was signed by the British and French in the vain hope of appeasing Hitler's appetite for conquest. World War II began just one year later with the German invasion of Poland.
A large portrait of Hitler decorates a shop window next to a swastika flag. The Germn news service writes on the back of the picture: "After the withdrawal of the Czechs. The Czechs detonated the bridge between Niedergrund and Kreibitz before the arrival of German Division II on Sunday, 01 October. Several buildings were also destroyed and five people were killed.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869 - 1940, third from left) passes a Nazi honour guard on his arrival at Oberwiesenfeld airport before a meeting with Adolf Hitler over the latter’s threats to invade Czechoslovakia, 29th September 1938. Left to right: Reichsstatthalter of Bavaria, Franz Ritter von Epp (1868 - 1947), British Ambassador to Germany Sir Neville Henderson (1882 - 1942), Chamberlain, and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893 - 1946).
War and Conflict, The invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia, 1939, German soldiers on the streets of Prague, Adolf's Hitler's Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939 after a list of demands and ultimatums from the Nazis were not met (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)