The Munich agreement, 1938 Essay
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‘At Munich Hitler gained what he wanted and achieved conquest without firing a shot’
How valid is this assessment of the outcome of the Munich agreement, 1938?
On the 12th March 1938 German troops marched into Austria. Two days later, in Vienna, Hitler formally proclaimed his Anschluss with Austria. It was a foretaste of what was to follow.
Hitler’s next objective was the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. But the coup this time was not to be carried out by the Fuhrer alone. After months of mounting tension, violent disorder and tales of Czech atrocities in the Sudeten lands which, Hitler promised would be his last territorial claim in Europe, Chamberlain and Daladier assembled together with Hitler and Mussolini at Munich to sign what eventually turned out to be the partition of Czechoslovakia.
Instead of intensifying pressure on the aggressor, Britain and France had chosen – for the sake of peace and stability to sacrifice ‘a far away country’ appeasing Hitler from a position of weakness, not a wise move. The Sudetenland was thus severed from Czechoslovakia. To The western democracies Hitler’s racial ambitions appeared satisfied and war was comfortably delayed for another year. In Chamberlains view Munich meant ‘peace in our time’. It was a temporary expedient.
The assignment title has two questions within it that need to be considered; did Hitler gain what he wanted at Munich? -Without a war? There has been much debate as to Adolf Hitler’s and with that Germany’s aims at Munich, was it simply the occupation of the once owned Sudetenland, Which Hitler felt had been stolen unjustly from them at Versailles, as a result uniting the German blooded people? Or was there a sinister larger objective as outlined in Mein Kampf and at Hossbach, the destruction of the Czech state and further more a possible war against the western powers? There is evidence that supports both possibilities as to Hitler’s aims, the evidence is based on Hitler’s style of leadership and historical interpretations put forward by recognised Historians help support these possibilities.
The Munich crisis has been analysed and looked at in depth my many historians who were trying to understand Hitler’s aims and actions. Often the historians reach different conclusions over the issues surrounding the event, this is largely due to the conflicting information that exists.
A. J. P. Taylor ‘Origins of the Second World War’ Chapter 8
A. J. P. Taylor expresses the opportunist argument, suggesting that Hitler lacked clear planning and consistent direction. Taylor argues that in fact Hitler was an opportunist making maximum use of the occasion. In 1961, Taylor published his Origins of the Second World War and immediately the temperature of the historical debate rose, though Taylor followed previous historians in giving criticism to the western leaders for their inconsistent policies, he added two more points. He argued that Hitler continued the policy of previous German governments in seeking eastward expansion in acquiring Lebensraum. Taylor also argued that, in aiming to make Germany the dominant power in Europe and in the World, Hitler was pursuing ambitions no different from that of previous German leaders pre-first world war or by the Weimar leaders of the 1920’s.
Of the book I have chapter eight at my disposal (appendix 1), which focuses directly on the Czech crisis. Within this chapter there are several examples of Taylor’s opportunistic views. With regard to the mounting internal tension from the German National movement in Czechoslovakia. 1 ‘Hitler did not create this movement. It was waiting for him, ready – indeed eager – to be used…. The crisis over Czechoslovakia was provided for Hitler. He merely took advantage of it’ this shows how the Fuhrer seemed to exploit favourable situations that came about through the actions of others in the build up to the Munich conference. In relation to the western powers, Taylor shows how Hitler’s traditional substantial German appetite was constantly whetted by the concessions offered to him by the British and French leaders. 2 ‘Not only did the British and French urge concessions on the Czechs.
The British also urged Hitler to make demands’ Again this shows how Hitler didn’t plan the unfolding of events, others presented opportunities even beyond his expectations. In terms of the French, Taylor suggests that perhaps Hitler didn’t plan for a war and didn’t intend to use military force to overthrow France in Europe. From the chapter it can also be established that Taylor felt that Hitler’s intentions at Munich were not to go to war but that war was only a threat, to add pressure to his mounting demands. The term that Taylor uses to support this view is that Hitler wanted to 3 ‘screw up tension.’. Taylor illustrates reasons that suggest why Hitler was not planning for war and on several occasions uses methods to avoid conflict. 4 ‘If Hitler wanted war, he must give the signal himself. A surprising result followed. The dreaded day of the 12th September arrived. Hitler delivered an impassionate speech at Nuremberg.
He recounted the Sudeten grievances…. And then? Nothing. No announcement of German mobilisation; no threat of war. Hitler’s patience was not exhausted. He still waited for the nerves of others to crack.’ Here Taylor shows that if Hitler really wanted war it would have been the perfect/favourable time to do so, the conclusion of the speech suggests that war was not his objective. However Taylor does suggest that Hitler’s fundamental aim was to destroy the Czech state by liberating the Sudeten Germans, however truly opportunist-like this aim lacked real plan. 5 ‘Hitler undoubtedly wished to ‘liberate’ the Germans of Czechoslovakia. He was also concerned, in more practical terms to remove the obstacle of which a well-armed Czechoslovakia…. He was by no means clear how this could be done.
‘ Taylor sees Hitler’s lack of planning as a factor effecting his decision making, in fact from looking at the chapter It could be said that absent planning meant Hitler was often sporadic acting/talking on impulse rather than thinking a plan through, Taylor recalls events of the 21st May 6 ‘He was enraged at his apparent humiliation…. He struck out the first sentence – which repudiated military action against Czechoslovakia – and wrote instead. ‘It is my unalterable intention to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future.’ Taylor states that one-day prior to this announcement on 20th May, on Hitler’s instructions a draft plan was released, which suggested otherwise, 7 ‘it is not my intention to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the immediate future without provocation’. Here Taylor shows the extent of Hitler’s spontaneity, because of accusations from Czechoslovakia of Germany’s intentions, Hitler let his emotions, in this case, anger, dictate his actions.
Taylor’s work has been scrutinised and has often been the subject of criticism, this is due to approach he takes when deriving and interpreting information on the subject area. Many historians feel that when Taylor sifts through the information he only highlights the information that supports his opportunist school of thought. This therefore does not give a fair/balanced account of the course of events and instead gives a biased personal account of Hitler’s objectives and plans.
Alan Bullock ‘Parallel Lives’ Chapter 14
Like Taylor, Bullock’s views shares some opportunist ideals but with that, unlike Taylor, he expresses a degree of intentionalism. Bullock sees that Hitler used Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Sudeten German party as a tool/aid to provoke a situation in Czechoslovakia. 8 ‘Henlein’s role was to raise demands that the Czechoslovak government could never agree to’ Bullock believes that once Hitler had aroused a situation he would then be able to capitalise on the opportunity when the time was favourable to him. Bullock feels that capitalising when the time was favourable meant when Hitler’s one clear objective could be achieved, 9 ‘the destruction of the Czechoslovak state’.
Bullock expresses that this one clear aim was to be reached through military means, and he believes that this had been part of the Germans military plans far before 1938, however not made apparent until 20th May 1938 when a draft directive was sent to Hitler outlining a decisive surprise attack of quick manner, so quick that other powers would be hopeless in intervention, however a date for this attack had not been agreed. Differently to Taylor Bullock’s work suggests that there is mildly significant evidence suggesting that Germany were making preparations in the event of war breaking out but Bullock does also believe that these were just preparatory measures and feels that Hitler was not totally fixed on military conflict with Czechoslovakia and states that Hitler left the door open for a peaceful outcome to the Czech crisis. Evidence that supports this comes from the 27th September, Hitler makes clear his intentions to break up the Czech state but due to the repercussions that might occur, as Bullock suggests, possible conflict with Britain and France.
Ian Kershaw ‘Hitler: 1936 – 45 Nemesis’ Chapter 2
Ian Kershaw is often regarded as an intentionalist however his perception of events surrounding Munich and the Czech crisis are somewhat different to that of the two previous historians. Kershaw saw Hitler as being determined for war against Czechoslovakia as his fundamental aim, even going as far to say that Hitler would have been prepared for a wider war if necessary against the western powers of Britain and France if a situation came about, however Kershaw states that Hitler was still unsure of when direct action would occur, this was made a little more obvious when Hitler received a draft copy of action on May 20th 1938.
Kershaw comments on how Hitler felt the need to strengthen and complete German defences to the west on the presumption that war would break out, Kershaw tells of how Hitler enhanced the development of such war preparations. 10 ‘A key deterrent, in his view, was the building of a 400-mile concrete fortification along Germany’s western border-the ‘Westwall’ to provide a significant obstruction to French invasion.’ Kershaw gives examples of Hitler revealing his feelings towards the Czechoslovak problem, at a meeting in Berlin on 28th May Hitler proclaimed to his generals, 11 ‘I am utterly determined that Czechoslovakia should disappear from the map.’ Kershaw puts this down to the need Hitler and Germany had for living space and the fact that Czechoslovakia was potentially a dangerous enemy, like Bullock Kershaw stresses the planned importance of a quick attack to avoid British and French intervention. Kershaw shows again Hitler’s aim, on the 30th May two days after the meeting in Berlin Hitler announces, 12 ‘It is my unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the foreseeable future.’ Kershaw sees this as strong evidence of Hitler’s decision for war.
Personal selected sources
This source is a recollection of Hitler’s views on the Czechoslovak problem that he stated at a meeting on the 28th May 1938 involving top nazi officials, the account comes from Fritz Wiedermann, one of those top nazi officials that attended. In helping to answer the first part of the assignment Fritz Wiedermann states Hitler announced, 13 ‘I am utterly determined that Czechoslovakia should disappear from the map.’ Suggesting Total war. Hitler then goes on to say 14 ‘we will deal with the situation in the east first. (Czechoslovakia)
Then I shall give you three or four years and then we will sort out things in the west’ Wiedermann explains that with ‘things in the west’ Hitler meant war with Britain and France. This account fits Kershaw’s interpretation of Hitler’s aims, firstly in wanting war with Czechoslovakia, secondly in stating that Hitler was prepared if necessary to go to war with Britain and France and thirdly that the destruction of the Czech state was a clear objective. The source also has content that supports Taylor and Bullock to some extent but not fully. In support to both historians, Wiedermann tells of Hitler’s ambition to destroy the Czech state an aim they felt was that of Hitler’s.
This source is a record of Hitler thoughts on the Czech crisis after meeting with the Hungarian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on 21st September 1938. The source’s information suggests that Hitler wanted war with Czechoslovakia even at the expense of a World war. It shows he wanted to destroy the Czech state and with that wanted to avoid a diplomatic solution. The sources information fits Kershaw and Bullock’s school of thought. The most important factor to be withdrawn from the source, I feel, is the evidence and support it gives as to why Hitler was later able to raise and further his demands to Chamberlain. The source shows how the Hungarian Prime minister was ‘advised’ by Hitler to state his and with that Hungary’s demands to him, importantly before his meeting with Chamberlain at Godesberg, 15 ‘The Fuhrer intends to make good use of this document at Godesberg in talks with the British’ This information suggests that he was aiming to use Hungary’s demands to right/justify his own.
This source comes one day after Hitler’s meeting with the Hungarian officials and shows how he increased his demands to Chamberlain, therefore linking the two sources. The source shows how the urged Hungarian demands heightened those of Hitler. Hitler’s grounds of settlement were now for hastened occupation of the Sudetenland by German troops, 16 ‘the territory within the so-called language boundary must be ceded at once, without any delay, and occupied by German troops.’ The source suggests Hitler reasons for this are based on the treatment of the Sudeten Germans. However with this obvious threat to the Czech state it can be gathered from the source that Hitler still at this point had not written off a diplomatic solution to the problem, 17 ‘Hitler did not want an early breakdown’, this means a breakdown to the negotiations and could be seen as Hitler trying to avoid war thus fitting Taylor’s and Bullock’s interpretations of Adolf Hitler’s aims, that destruction of the Czech state was a key objective, but only the threat of war was there liking to Taylor’s case or as Bullock suggests, leaving a door open for a possible peaceful/diplomatic conclusion.
Hitler made a speech at the Sportspalast on the 26th September, this source is an extract taken from that speech. The source clearly suggests that the demands made over Czechoslovakia would be Hitler’s last. In his speech Hitler explains that once the Sudeten land/territory is surrendered to German control then Germany would be content and peace would be prevalent. There is therefore close relation between this source and Taylor’s view, the suggestion that Hitler and with that Germany did not want war with Czechoslovakia but the use of threat of war and intimidation was a key factor in achieving German Foreign policy aims. Although this source is useful in understanding what Hitler fundamentally wanted from Munich it is only a small extract from the speech and therefore does not give a full account and could be missing vital information.
The latter half of this source is that of a reaction of a British man, Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart. The diary entry comes from 26th September and is a reaction to Hitler’s speech at the German Sportspalast. The diarist can see war with the western powers as a certainty in the not too distant future, he suggests the only method of avoidance would be if Britain and France were to back down and accept the Fuhrer’s demands fully before the 1st October, 18 ‘He gave the Czech’s until October the 1st to hand over the Sudeten areas which he has fixed in his memorandum.’ This view on the Czech situation fits both Bullock’s and Kershaw’s interpretations to a certain extent. In mentioning Harold Nicholson’s, a leading British politician, reaction to the speech it gives an a perspective into British opinion at the time, allowing Germany to acquire the Sudetenland but not the confiscation of the Czechoslovakian independence. The source is useful in providing a British reaction to events occurring in Czechoslovakia however does not give a great deal of insight to whether Hitler actually gained what he wanted.
This source comes from the 9th October, a diary entry from the German State Secretary in the Foreign ministry, Von Weizsacker. He talks of successful results for Germany in regards of the Czech crisis, however not completely successful as far as some leading Nazi party members were concerned, it was them who viewed war as completely necessary, not Hitler and to them it could have been called a failure.
The source states that Hitler’s unmistakeable intention was destroy Czechoslovakia, 19 ‘Among numerous similar statements made by the Fuhrer in my presence during the night 27-28 September was one to the effect that he would now annihilate Czechoslovakia.’ This contradicts Taylor’s view of the situation that suggests that prospects of war were merely a bluff. The information in the source fits Ian Kershaw’s interpretation, as the destruction of the Czech state is clearly recognisable and war to a degree is seen as a fundamental aim however the scale of which is not clear from the information. Similarly there can clearly be seen a relation to Bullock’s view, he suggests that Hitler wanted the destruction of the Czech state-as does the source, and the information supports the aim of war.
This source is a military directive from 21st October, The source does not directly lay down Hitler’s feelings and aims but that of the German military and at this time it is fair to say that Hitler would have had large control/heavy influence over military proceedings. The aims that are stated are firstly, to secure the frontiers of the German Reich and protection against surprise attacks, secondly, The liquidation of the remainder of the Czech State therefore revealing that Hitler’s plans and aims towards Czechoslovakia were not complete at Munich and he wanted further control/dominance over the Czech State even a month later. From the source it can also be taken that Germany was ready and planning for war to reach the military objective of further liquidation (which supports Bullocks view to an extent) this then rejects Taylor’s interpretation of mere threats as the evidence suggests a definite intention.
The source comes post-Munich on 10th February 1939, it is taken from a speech where Hitler summarises his feelings towards the previous months that had been lined with incident. The speech was conducted in front of Nazi seniors and from it, it can be taken that Hitler and Germany had been working to a set of pre-meditated plans,20 ‘all the individual decisions which have been realised since 1933 are not the result of momentary considerations but represent the implementation of a previously existing plan.’ Thus rejecting Taylor’s opportunist argument. Hitler states specifically his early-envisaged plans surrounding the problem of Czechoslovakia,21 ‘It was also quite obvious that the Austrian and Czech problems would have to be solved in order further to strengthen Germany’s political and, in particular, her strategic position.’ The condition Hitler mentions is that of timing. This source adds evidence to the intentionalist school of thought.
This source is an extract from a top-secret military instruction from the Fuhrer himself to Konrad Henlein, leader of the Sudeten Germans within Czechoslovakia, Henlein reports on his meeting with the Fuhrer. The source is dated 23rd March, significantly 8 days after the Anschluss, thus showing how Hitler’s attentions were turning away from Austria and towards the appetising conquest of Czechoslovakia. The source states that Hitler wanted to settle the Sudeten German problem in the no too distant future and to achieve that Henlein summarised the his feelings, 22 ‘We must always demand so much that we can never be satisfied.’
This was strongly approved by the Fuhrer. This can help support the interpretations of Hitler’s aims in different ways. It could be seen as a method of provocation therefore gaining attention and screwing up tension, avoiding war but creating other favourable situations, which fits Taylor’s interpretation. However more comparably it can be linked with Kershaw’s view suggesting that the Fuhrer was not looking for a diplomatic solution and would demand more without compromise. Importantly it is important to notice the strong correlation that this source has with the earlier Hossbach memorandum, a meeting where Hitler supposedly set out his foreign policy aims in the company of key party officials, in terms of Czechoslovakia the discussed policy of lebensraum was being applied.
The reliability of this source is debateable, the authenticity seems to be official and comes from the German ministry of Foreign affairs, it is however not a direct recording of Hitler’s speech but another’s account/interpretation of what Hitler said, Henlein could have interpreted what Hitler said in the wrong manner.
Adolf Hitler gives his personal directive for the invasion of Czechoslovakia (operation green) in this source, it was sent to all leaders of the German military on 30th May 1938. In essence it outlines Hitler’s hostile military ideals toward the Czech state, it is thus clear that Hitler felt that the timing of an attack on Czechoslovakia was of great importance.23 ‘The proper choice and determined exploitation of a favourable moment is the surest guarantee of success.’ It can also be inferred that an attack would be by means of destruction of the Czech state in the near future, however correct timing was essential.
The fact that the source suggests that Hitler longed to ‘smash’ the Czech state reveals that perhaps Hitler wanted his war, however with who is not made apparent. The source therefore does relate to Taylor, Bullock and Kershaw to an extent as it supports the argument that Hitler’s fundamental aim was the destruction of the Czech state. In correlation to sources (A) and (C) of my personally selected sources as in support of the three historians it is agreed that destruction of Czechoslovakia is what Hitler had in mind. The source itself is therefore supported by this evidence and as an official document seems to be of a reliable nature.
Document 4 is a record of a speech made by the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain in a radio broadcast on the 27th September to his fellow Britons. In short the speech was that of an update to the British people on how his meeting with Adolf Hitler went on 15th September 1938 in Germany, the subject being a matter of self-determination for the Sudeten Germans and his apparent surprise at the Anglo-French proposals at the refused/once-accepted proposals of the 21st and 22nd of the same month. This source gives a good insight into British perception of events first politically and more interestingly domestically,24 ‘How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks’ showing that at this time British were resigned for another war.
In the speech Chamberlain’s response to Hitler’s seemingly increasing demands was that of leniency and weakness- giving in and allowing the occupation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Chamberlains reason for such apparent leniency towards the Fuhrer was that he believed it would be Hitler’s last claim. But like Hitler demanding so much he can never be satisfied, the very next day his demands had once again heightened and the terms were not longer applicable. This demanding technique could be seen as Hitler trying to screw up tension and can therefore be linked to Taylor’s interpretation that Hitler’s intention was not that of war but the use of threats of conflict was a well used tool employed by Hitler to gain what he wanted. The source helps give an understanding from a British perspective and how they felt it necessary to react in the posed situations, however, at a time of potential conflict it is unlikely that Chamberlain gave his true thoughts/feelings on the Czech problem in attempt to maintain good morale amongst British society.
The information in this source comes from another book by A.J.P. Taylor, ‘English History’, written five years after his ‘Origins of the Second World War’. The extract is an interpretation of events leading up to and including the meeting at Berchtesgaden and Godesberg. Like the previous source the focus is on Hitler’s seemingly greedy appetite agreeing to terms set on 15th September, relating the separation of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia, and then days later on the 22nd September heightening his demands and discarding the already accepted terms, he wanted immediate occupation of Czechoslovakia.
Taylor goes as far to say that Hitler’s reason for his sudden change in demands was to simply humiliate/undermine the Western powers or maybe because of the claims that were being made by the Poles and the Hungarians. The source stresses the important role played by the Italian leader, Mussolini in persuading Hitler to agree to four-power conference before launching military actions towards the Czech State, however could again suggest that Hitler never actually intended a war and by heightening demands and agreeing to a conference was again just screwing up tension to achieve what he wanted. Differently from many of the other sources I have used this is that of a secondary source, allowing Taylor to use evidence supplied by other historians as well as other primary sources to add substance to his opportunistic interpretation.
I have chosen to use the first statement shown which is that of Alfred Jodl, a Nazi general, made on 1st October 1938. He feels that Hitler had been successful at Munich and more importantly had acquired what he longed for without the use of military action/without firing a shot. 25 ‘The genius of the Fuhrer and his determination not to shun even a World war has again won victory without the use of force.’ This relates to Taylor’s view of Hitler’s ambitions, that he was only using the threat of conflict to gain and achieve what he wanted. Unlike the other sources Jodl’s view is in support of Hitler, but as a general not a leading Nazi he was not in the best position to know/understand what Hitler planned to do. Hitler only gave great trust to his loyal close members of the party regarding the crisis.
The last source in question is a reflection of the on the effects that the Munich crisis left in its wake. The source concentrates on the massive gains that Germany acquired in terms of industrial and military land areas. Significantly the source shows how Hitler’s infamy rose which lead to others becoming more aware of his presence, 26 ‘Stalin began to think seriously about doing a deal with Germany’. The source also emphasises ho Hitler managed to gain a bloodless victory, and even more importantly explains that Hitler due to the agreement now had the legal justification he needed to occupy the whole of Czechoslovakia. The extract comes from a book by K. Perry, ‘Modern Europe History’ 1976, which suggest the book would give a good account of the effects the crisis had on Europe as a whole.
From the range of sources I have studied it is possible to gain some conclusions based on the historical schools of thought of what Hitler wanted at Munich and how he achieved that- i.e. without a war. From looking at all three of the recognised historians interpretations, Taylor, Bullock and Kershaw it is possible to name one aim that they all feel was fundamental to Hitler, that being the destruction of the Czech State. By destruction of the Czech state this did not necessarily mean by military action as evidence suggests it could have just meant by liquidating the Sudeten Germans and destroying Czechoslovakian state control over the German blooded people.
1 A.J.P. Taylor, Origins of the Second World War, see Appendix 1
2 Taylor, Appendix 1
3 Taylor, Appendix 1
4 Taylor, Appendix 1
5 Taylor, Appendix1
6 Taylor, Appendix 1
7 Taylor Appendix 1
8 Alan Bullock, Parallel Lives, See Appendix 2
9 Bullock, Appendix 2
10 Ian Kershaw, ‘Hitler: 1936-1945 Nemesis’ see Appendix 3
11 Kershaw, Appendix 3
12 Kershaw, Appendix 3
13 Noakes and Pridham, Source A, see Appendix 5
14 Noakes and Pridham, Source A, Appendix 5
15 Noakes and Pridham, Source C, Appendix 5
16 Noakes and Pridham, Source D, Appendix 5
17 Noakes and Pridham, Source D, Appendix 5
18 Noakes and Pridham, Source E, part (b) Appendix 5
19 Noakes and Pridham, Source I, Appendix 5
20 Noakes and Pridham, Source K, Appendix 5
21 Noakes and Pridham, Source K, Appendix 5
22 WJEC pack, Document 1, see Appendix 4
23 WJEC pack, Document 3, Appendix 4
24 WJEC pack, Document 4, Appendix 4
25 WJEC pack, Document 10, Appendix 4
26 WJEC pack, Document 11, Appendix 4
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