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Sudetenland and Crimea

At Auschwitz, there is a poster warning that those who won’t remember their history will be condemned to live it again…. Are we living again the Sudetenland nightmare?

The Sudetenland crisis

After World War I, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke apart, an independent Czechoslovakia was proclaimed and included – among other territories – the German-speaking parts of the former Lands of the Bohemian Crown. This was ratified by the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

In March 1938, Hitler smoothly annexed Austria to the Third Reich (Anschluss) and his increasing aggressiveness had prompted the Czechoslovak military to build extensive border fortifications, already in 1936….

Immediately after annexing Austria, Hitler triggered the Sudetenland crisis by making himself the advocate of ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia. And he started, on April 24th 1938, just by asking the complete equality between the Sudeten Germans and the Czech people, which the Czechoslovakian government accepted on June 30th 1938.

In August 1938, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, sent Lord Runciman to Czechoslovakia in order to see if he could obtain a settlement between the Czechoslovak government and the Germans in the Sudetenland. In his report, Lord Runciman, though expressing sadness that he could not reach agreement, gave details of four plans which had been proposed to deal with the crisis, each of which had points which made it unacceptable to the other parties to the negotiations: (a) transfer of the Sudetenland to the Reich; (b) a plebiscite on the transfer of the Sudetenland to the Reich, (c) organisation of a Four Powers Conference on the matter, (d) creation of a federal Czechoslovakia.

Then, Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler on September 15th 1938 and settled for option (a), i.e. to the cession of the Sudetenland. Three days later, French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier did the same. No Czechoslovak representative was invited to these discussions. Chamberlain met Hitler again on September 22nd to confirm the agreement. But this time, Hitler, in trepidation for war, asked for more: not only the annexation of the Sudetenland but also the immediate military occupation of the territories, giving the Czechoslovak army no time to adapt their defence measures to the new borders.

Munich Conference
Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini and Ciano, at the Munich Conference
from German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv,Bild 183-R69173/CC-BY-SA)

Obviously this generated anxiety and, miraculously, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini proposed himself as a mediator and suggested a conference between UK, Italy, Germany and France to define the matter peacefully. On September 29, Hitler, Daladier and Chamberlain agreed to Mussolini’s proposal and met in Munich. The outcome could be described differently by each of the participants: Hitler was happy because he could occupy the Sudetenland, Chamberlain and Daladier were happy because they just avoided a war and Mussolini was happy for his ally…. Again: no Czechoslovak representative was invited to the Munich Conference.

The real outcome was that, in March 1939, the Czech portion of Czechoslovakia was invaded by Germany. And when, later in September 1939, Hitler tried to do it again with the Polish city of Gdansk, World War II was triggered.

Is it happening again?

Does this remind any of the recent news? History doesn’t repeat itself: but, if we don’t learn from previous mistakes, we will mistake again, won’t we?

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