Czechoslovakia in World War II

Adolf Hitler had completed Anschluss with Austria and now was looking towards lands not traditionally part of “Greater Germany.” The Sudatenland, a narrow strip of mountainous land in Czechoslovakia, held a predominantly ethnic German population on the border with Germany.

The Sudatenland was important to the Czechs for two reasons: the mountains were a natural defense against German aggression, and most of their manmade fortifications were located there. If the Sudatenland were to fall, the whole of Czechoslovakia would be open to German occupation. Also in the region were most of the Czech coal, electric, and iron and steel works.

Against the guarantee of Czech border integrity by her geography, they also entered into a treaty with the French to protect them against any aggressors. French had signed this treaty after World War I to actualize the new political map of Europe.

In the summer of 1938, the Nazis had an experienced political and paramilitary organization set up to ferment pro-Nazi dissent and smash their opposition. Nazi sympathizers, Czech and German, began to enter Czechoslovakia and the Sudatenland to fight with Communists, Social Democrats, and Socialists, their traditional enemies, and to focus attention on the supposed plight of the ethnic Germans. Most of these ethnic Germans did not want to be part of Germany, and many did not even speak German.

After street battles like those of Hitler’s rise to power and Austrian Anschluss, Hitler demanded the Sudatenland from Czechoslovakian President Eduard Benes. Benes turned to Britain for help, especially to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

Chamberlain was a man who did not comprehend the circumstances in which he lived. The world was changing far more rapidly than he could handle. He knew that Britain did not possess the arms to fight a renewed German Wehrmacht. He sought to appease Hitler, and flew to Munich on September 29 to discuss the Czechoslovakian crisis. Also joining the discussion was Italian Duce Benito Mussolini and French Premier Édouard Daladier. Benes was not present, nor any Czech representative.