Why London Presented Hitler With Vienna And Prague (I-III)

State frontiers are established by human beings
and may be changed by human beings.
Adolf Hitler.  Mein Kampf

Diplomacy, with all the conventions of its forms,
recognizes only real facts.
Charles de Gaulle

Part One

All of Adolf Hitler’s actions, from the time he rose to power in 1933 until 1939, could be described as one triumph after another.  He met each challenge he faced: he took over as head of the country, returned Germany’s lost territories without a struggle, and was given permission from England and France to rearm.  But one further task lay before him, and failure now would make his previous achievements almost pointless.  The new, powerful, self-confident Germany needed to attack the USSR.  Her army required a launching pad where she could deploy her army for invasion.  Otherwise it would be impossible to take a stab at Russia.  After all, it did not matter how many tanks and airplanes Hitler possessed or whether they were old or new, as long as Germany lacked a shared border with the Soviet Union.  The diplomats of England and France wrestled with how to resolve this problem.

Nazi Germany territorial expansion 1933-1939

Until now, as in the case of the Saar and the Rhineland, Hitler had retaken lands that had previously belonged to the Kaiser’s empire, and Western politicians had for the most part granted him an “indulgence.” After all, the Germans were only recovering what was “theirs,” and thus we will avert our eyes.

However, now the situation had changed.  Austria became Hitler’s first truly “foreign” victim.  And it wasn’t because it was the birthplace of the future German Fuhrer, Adolf Schicklgruber.  Nor will we mention the kinship between the ethnic Germans of Germany and Austria.  We will leave this to the linguists and ethnographers to sort out.  Our focus is elsewhere: for the first time Hitler used threats of coercion and force to compel the chancellor of the independent Austrian state to sign a treaty with Germany that effectively deprived the smaller country of its independence.

On February 11, 1938, Hitler summoned Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg to Berchtesgaden.  The Fuhrer immediately declared that Austrian leader should rid himself of any illusions of aid from Italy, France, or Great Britain.[1]

After these “fruitful” discussions, von Schuschnigg left for Vienna, still without having signed an agreement with Germany or yielding to these undisguised scare tactics.  His only way to resist the pressure from Germany was to show the world what Hitler was threatening to do.  If the international community had reacted decisively, Hitler would have been unable to devour the Austrian state.

Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg in 1934.

Kurt von Schuschnigg placed his hopes in the protection of “civilized humanity.” And until quite recently, the British and French had taken a rigid stance on the Austrian question.  They used all possible means to try to prevent the creation of a unified German state within Europe.

When the Habsburg Empire collapsed, the National Assembly of the new democratic Austria decided it wished to rejoin the new democratic Germany.  However, the countries of the Entente disliked seeing their former enemies in such a position of renewed power.  Not only did they do all that they could to ensure that this decision by the Austrian National Assembly was never implemented, they also included a stipulation in the Treaty of Versailles that made it impossible for Germany to absorb its neighbor: “Germany acknowledges and will respect strictly the independence of Austria …  , she agrees that this independence shall be inalienable, except with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations.”But just to be sure, a similar proscription was introduced in the Treaty of St.Germain that the victors signed with Austria: “The independence of Austria is inalienable … Consequently Austria undertakes …  to abstain from any act which might directly or indirectly or by any means whatever compromise her independence…”

In short, and England and France resisted all attempts at German unification. But only until Adolf Hitler assumed power in Germany!

Let us compare several facts.

• In addition to the treaties of Versailles and St.Germain, the Geneva Protocol, which was signed in October 1922 under pressure from the countries of the Entente, included a commitment to blocking any rapprochement between Vienna and Berlin.  It clearly required the Austrians to refuse to enter into any treaty with Germany.

• On August 28, 1931,  the Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague ruled that a contemplated customs union between Germany and Austria was in conflict with the Geneva Protocols and was therefore illegal.

• On July 15, 1932, in accordance with the Geneva Protocol, Austria was promised a large financial loan on the condition that it forgo Anschluss (union) with Germany until 1952.

But now Hitler had taken the helm in Germany, and the position of Britain and France pivoted 180 degrees.  Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg was then confronted with this altered stance.  The West had reason to take a hard line: the German Fuhrer had taken the liberty of threatening the leader of a neighboring state and had broken the Austro-German agreement he himself had signed.  However, the diplomats from powerful Western countries kept silent.  Austria and its chancellor were on their own.

The Austro-German Agreement of July 11, 1936 guaranteed mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs as well as the independence of Austria as “a German State.” One telling detail – in his attempt to find an option other than simply “surrendering” his country to Hitler, von Schuschnigg drafted a decree restoring Habsburg rule in his nation.  But the British and French needed an invigorated Germany, not the restoration of the monarchy.  Therefore, the solution proposed by von Schuschnigg did not “enjoy the support of the European powers.”  And the Austrian Chancellor had real reason for his hatred of the Nazis.  Even before the signing of the agreement with Germany, a car carrying his wife had suffered a mysterious and terrible accident.  Both she and her driver were killed.  This event raised suspicions because of the fact that at the time of his wife’s death she had a briefcase of von Schuschnigg’s in her possession containing documents that were compromising to Hitler.  That briefcase vanished during the accident.

But we must give Kurt von Schuschnigg his due: he resisted right until the end.  On Sunday March 13, 1938, von Schuschnigg scheduled a referendum.  A negative response to the question about a merger with Germany would have provided the international community with a legal pretext for refusing to allow Hitler to occupy Austria.  The Fuhrer just had to be held off for a few days.  But Berlin understood the danger inherent in such a turn of events, and the next day sent von Schuschnigg an ultimatum: cancel the plebiscite and tender your resignation without delay.

Why was Hitler so unexpectedly frightened by the prospect of the Austrian referendum?  Had he so little faith that the majority of Austrians wanted to become citizens of the Third Reich?  It is possible he had his doubts.  But also the Nazi leader knew very well how to obtain the needed results at the ballot box.  If the Austrian authorities were only to slightly “doctor” the requisite numbers, the continued existence of the Nazi state would become highly problematic.  The West would sponsor Germany only as long as she was moving in the right direction.  And that direction was eastward.  In this way, Hitler could be “fed” entire countries and peoples out of practical considerations, but only to ensure that he quickly fulfilled his duties, which were to unleash war upon Russia.  No one would finance the Third Reich without a reason.

German troops entering Vienna, March 1938

Did London, Paris, and Washington understand the situation? They understood and therefore kept silent.  But Chancellor von Schuschnigg took his time responding to Hitler, expecting foreign support.  Berlin repeated its order three times.  Finally, on March 11, 1938, von Schuschnigg was given another ultimatum: if Germany’s demands were not met, that very day 200,000 German soldiers would cross the Austrian border.  Having obtained no diplomatic support from the world’s leading powers, the Austrian chancellor addressed the Austrian people on the radio, announcing that he would resign in order to prevent bloodshed.  Arthur Seyss-Inquart, a Nazi official, replaced him as chancellor and immediately appealed to Berlin, requesting assistance to control unrest allegedly organized by “red” sympathizers.  At dawn on March 12, German troops entered Austria[2].

But since the referendum had already been announced, canceling it would have been undiplomatic.  Hitler proclaimed that the Austrian plebiscite would of course still be held.  Only somewhat later than scheduled.And during the preparations, three authorized agents arrived in Vienna from Berlin to ensure the desired public sentiments.  The professional operatives primarily in charge of arranging these democratic procedures were SS-Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, SS-Obergruppenführer and head of the SD Reinhard Heydrich, and SS-Oberstgruppenführer Kurt Daluege.  With this dependable team on its way, Hitler had little reason to worry about the outcome of the referendum.  At the same time, a decision was made to conduct a plebiscite throughout the entire Third Reich.

The SS immediately begin to build its machinery of oppression in Austria.  Persecutions of the Jews began.  Adolf Eichmann, another infamous personality from the SS, soon arrived in Vienna.  His mission – to force the Jewish population of Austria to emigrate by any means necessary.  Everything that had previously been seen in Germany now became a reality on the streets of Austrian cities as well, such as the bullying, harassment, and beatings of Jews.  The international community “took no notice” and, as before, “did not see” the suffering of the German Jews.

Local residents watch the burning of the ceremonial hall at the Jewish cemetery in Graz during Kristallnacht, November 1938

In all, 1938 was a year “rich” in anti-Semitic events within the Third Reich.  On July 16, employees of security agencies were forbidden to spend the night in Jewish hotels or boarding houses; on July 23, Jews were required to always carry an identity card; on July 27, a resolution was adopted to rename streets named in honor of Jews; on August 7, a mandate was issued forbidding Jews from giving their children “traditional German names” after Jan.1, 1939 and decreeing that the names of all Jewish children must then include the suffix of “Israel” for boys and “Sarah” for girls; on Aug.31, restrictions were imposed on mail being sent to Jews – on the backs of envelopes that were intended for German recipients, the phrase “not for Jews” was added; and on Nov.11, Jewish children could no longer attend ordinary German schools.  “The international community” took “no notice” of this whatsoever …

In a meeting with journalists, American President Franklin Roosevelt refused to comment on the events in Austria.  The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir John Simon, claimed that the UK had never provided any special guarantees for the independence of that country.  All of the hurdles England had set up to prevent the union of ethnic Germans from Austria and Germany were immediately eliminated.  On March 14, 1938, the issue of Austria’s annexation by Germany was discussed in the British House of Commons.  British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain informed Parliament that the British and French ambassadors had lodged a protest with the German government regarding the violence in Austria.  It is interesting to note that the German foreign minister simply refused to accept the English remonstrance! What came next? Calls for a boycott, a mobilization?

No.  Two weeks later, on April 2, 1938, the British government formally recognized Germany’s seizure of Austria.

To be continued…


[1] In order to keep von Schuschnigg off balance, Hitler pointedly forbade this insatiable smoker of 60 cigarettes per day from lighting up during the negotiations.

[2] Kurt von Schuschnigg paid dearly for his resistance to Hitler’s plans.  After Austria was annexed to Germany, he was held by the Gestapo for several weeks before being sent to a concentration camp where he remained until May 1945.

 

Part Two

Any discussion of Hitler’s takeover of Austria must include the important role Mussolini played in the Anschluss.  Since Italy was one of the victors of WWI, that country was one of the primary guarantors of Austria’s neutrality and sovereignty.  The reason for this was simple: according to Article 36 of the Treaty of St.Germain, Italy received significant territorial concessions from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and therefore had the greatest interest in preserving Austria’s sovereignty.

Thus Vienna placed particular hope in Mussolini, which at first seemed warranted: in 1934, when the local Nazi movement reared its head and became unusually active, Italy deployed troops to the Austrian border, making it clear it would not tolerate any German domination of Austria.  However, Italy did nothing to help its neighbor during the Anschluss.  Looking at Mussolini’s altered position, we must remember that although a formal alliance existed between Berlin and Rome, the leader of Italy still had no reason to feel compelled to prove that thefriendship was a serious one.[1] Mussolini, a fascist,was under no obligation to unconditionally support Hitler, a Nazi! A shared psychological and ideological affinity is one matter, but the potential return of formerly Austrian (currently Italian) territories to a country inhabited by ethnic Germans was quite another.[2]

Benito Mussolini

Why did Mussolini behave this way? Italy was richly rewarded for taking this position on the Austrian question …by England and the US. 

The fact is that Mussolini was enthralled by the heroic feats of ancient Rome and had decided to build a new empire for Italy as well.  The fascist state’s first test of strength was the attack on Ethiopia, known at the time as Abyssinia.  Italian troops invaded the country on Oct.4, 1935.

Abyssinia demanded that Italy face international sanctions.  On October 7, 1935, the Council of the League of Nations recognized Italy as the aggressor, but this did not result in any tangible consequences for Mussolini’s regime, because the “sanctions” that were imposed allowed it to continue to steadily wage war.  Indeed, the question of serious actions, such as a rupture in diplomatic relations or military pressure on the aggressor, was never even raised.  It’s telling that no mention is made in any League of Nations documents about an embargo on the most important raw materials for Italy: oil, iron ore, and coal.  In addition, the US and Germany were not members of the League of Nations and were therefore under no obligation to comply with the regime of sanctions.  On the contrary, the United States dramatically increased its oil shipments to that aggressor nation between 1935-1936, and the British government rejected a proposal for a naval blockade of Italy and the closure of the Suez Canal to its vessels, which could have been used as a significant form of pressure.[3]

Ethiopean Dessie town after bombardment by Italian interventionists, 1935

Although their forces were unequal, the poorly armed Ethiopians offered stubborn resistance.  In response, the Italian army used toxic gases against the civilian population of Ethiopia.[4]Instead of condemning this savagery, Britain adopted quite an odd position: not only did it refuse to toughen the sanctions,it actually began to fight to have them completely revoked.  On June 18, 1936, the minister of foreign affairs, Anthony Eden, spoke in the House of Commons claiming that the sanctions imposed against Italy had not yielded the hoped-for results.  As we have often seen, it was London that acted as the political trendsetter on the world stage.  And thus, on July 4, 1936, after the Italians had occupied the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the League of Nations resolved to forgo future sanctions.

But what is the connection between the seizure of Abyssinia and the Austrian Anschluss? They are directly linked.  Mussolini’s accommodating attitude that made it possible for Hitler to devour his neighbor was immediately rewarded.  On March 12, 1938, every road leading to Vienna was crawling with German tanks, and on April 16, 1938 the Anglo-Italian Agreement was signed in Rome with little fanfare.  England and Italy pledged to establish “good, neighborly relations” between them.  But most important was England’s recognition of Italy’s seizure of Abyssinia.  Those British gentlemen literally traded Addis Ababa for Vienna.

 The list of European capitals that were unabashedly “handed over” to the Fuhrer should by all rights include Spain’s Madrid.  Hitler was creating a huge new army at breakneck speed and urgently needed a testing ground for new technology, officer training, etc.  And this testing ground was created for him.

The backdrop for the Spanish Civil War was by no means the battle between communism and fascism.  It was a dress rehearsal for the future all-out military confrontation between the USSR and Germany.  And Britain and France, having covered themselves with a fig leaf of neutrality, were in fact actively helping one of the parties to the conflict – General Franco’s insurgents, not the legitimate government of Spain.  This assistance provided by the “democracies” to the Spanish fascists was sometimes indirect, but frequently quite straightforward.

Francisco Franco

Naturally the gentlemen in London did not care for General Franco himself or his ideas.  But the victory of the fascists in the Spanish Civil War allowed British diplomats to resolve several very important issues:

• Hitler and Mussolini were given the opportunity to fight and win to their hearts’ content, to gain confidence in their accomplishments, and to test out their armies and military equipment in a real-world setting.

• if they won, the potential aggressors would gain an important source of raw materials[5]

• a keystone of the Nazi ideology –battling and destroying communism- was graphically confirmed

The insurrection against the Spanish government began on the evening of July 17, 1936, in Spanish Morocco and in the Canary and Balearic Islands.  Less than two weeks after the coup began, two German military squadrons arrived on the shores of Spain, and German transport planes flew to Morocco.  With Hitler’s assistance, Moroccan troops safely landed on the Spanish mainland.

How could the international community have responded to the intervention of a third country in Spain’s internal conflict?  Especially if that country is preparing to support military units rebelling against the legitimate government?  They could have reacted quite strongly with sanctions, a boycott, or the demand for an immediate end to the intervention.  Let us not forget that the Olympics were scheduled to be held in Berlin in August 1936 – an event that was extremely important for the Nazi regime.  And only a month beforehand Hitler was engaged in a civil war in Spain!  And the New-York-based civil committee to boycott German Olympics was desperately needing these arguments! But international community obstinately disregarded the signs reading “No Admittance to Jews or Dogs” hanging on the doors of public toilets in the Third Reich.  And then Hitler himself provided a gift to those who were eager to deprive him of the Olympic flame – he intervened militarily in an independent country.  Perhaps now the boycott of the fascist Olympics would begin?

Why did Hitler take such a risk? Because he knew that the Third Reich held most-favored-nation status!As long as it was acting in accordance with its agreements with its British partners.

On September 9, 1936, the international Non-Intervention Committee began its work within the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressing the Spanish Civil War.  The committee focused on blocking any help to the Republicans under a facade of false neutrality, while goading the Soviet Union to independent action that would “violate” international law.  And events were moving in exactly the right direction for the English.  On October 22, 1936, the Soviet ambassador in London sent a note to the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs proposing to recognize and restore the Spanish government’s right to purchase weapons.  The note warned that otherwise the Soviet government would not consider itself to be bound by the Non-Intervention Agreement to a greater extent than the other parties to the agreement.

And the Republican government simply had no choice.  It was in possession of a gold reserve, but the principle of “non-intervention” meant that no one was willing to sell.  Stalin’s Soviet Union was the only country where Spain could buy weapons.  There was also the United States of course, but in 1935 the US Congress adopted a “neutrality” act.  What did that mean? This meant that Spain could not buy arms from the United States, but Germany could.  Thus the Republicans were not provided with American weapons, while their opponents were abundantly supplied through German firms.

One question exists that has never been studied: Franco’s sources of financing.  A single German Condor Legion included 250 aircraft, 180 tanks, hundreds of anti-tank guns, and other weapons and cost more than 190 million Reichsmarksbetween Nov.7, 1936 and Oct,31, 1938, according to the Nazis’ own calculations.  Anyone familiar with military spending knows that the most expensive weapons are not the planes or tanks.  Warships are the most costly armaments.  And guess what? The rebel fleet was regularly replenished with supplies from Berlin and Rome.  The total value of the aid sent to Franco’s forces by Germany and Italy is estimated at no less than $1 billion.

A meeting between Franco and Hitler on the Spanish-French border, 1940. The Spanish dictator refused to fight on behalf of his German and Italian “benefactors” in the Second World War, because he owed his debt of gratitude for his seizure of power to entirely different nations.

So how did General Franco pay for such generous help?  Where did he get such huge sums of money? After all, Franco had no financial resources – Spain’s entire gold reserve was in the hands of the Republicans.  The leader of the insurgents had no way to pay.  But as it turned out, Germany, which was carrying the burden of the enormous growth in its own military spending, might as well have beenflinging buckets ofmoney into the wind.  And Italy was doing the same.  In the end, they received no economic dividends from Franco’s victory: Spain would sell its strategic raw materials to Germany and Italy during the war, not give them away.  Nor would there be any political dividends: several years later Franco would refuse to fight for his German “friends” against Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.[6]

He was the only dictator who not only survived the Second World War intact, but also remained in power until his death.[7]

However, neither Hitler nor Mussolini ever presented Franco with any bills, nor did they bear him any ill will.  Why was this? Because the bills for the Spanish war and the German military supplies sent to the Spanish rebels were paid by the same mysterious sponsors of the Nazis who were responsible for Hitler’s “economic miracle.”

To be continued…

ENDNOTES:

[1] The alliance between Berlin and Rome known as the Axis was born on Oct.25, 1936 during a visit to Germany by the Italian foreign minister, Galeazzo Ciano.  Japan joined the Italo-German alliance much later – on Dec.11, 1940.

[2] The region known as the South Tyrol, which is inhabited by ethnic Germans, is still part of Italy today.

[3] Thus, US oil exports to Italy in 1935 increased by 140% compared to the previous year, while supplies sent to Italian-occupied Africa skyrocketed by 2,000-3,000%.

[4]“The civilized world” took almost “no notice” of the massacre committed by Italian fascists at Lake Ashangi on April 3, 1936, when 140 airplanes dropped chemical weapons on civilians.  No one paid any attention to the crimes committed by Japan during its attack on China.  Without going into the details of that terrible war, we offer only two illustrative facts:  During the siege of Shanghai, the Japanese so thoroughly slaughtered the civilian population that one witness described the carnage as follows: not one person was left alive in an area of 4.5 squarekilometers.  During the capture of Nanking, the Japanese killed 200,000 people – half the city’s population.

[5] Spain produced about 45% of the world’s mercury, more than 50% of its pyrite and was a major exporter of iron ore, tungsten, lead, zinc, potash, silver, and other minerals essential for the war industry.  Control of these sources of strategic raw materials allowed Hitler to significantly bolster his economic potential.

[6] Hitler and Franco met in Hendaye in 1940.  The “grateful” Franco claimed it was time for his siesta and forced Hitler to wait for 30 long minutes.  Later, the Fuhrer said that he would sooner agree have three or four of his teeth pulled than meet with the caudillo again.  All that Hitler was able to wrest from Franco was the dispatch of “volunteers”- a single Blue Division – to the Eastern Front.

[7] In accordance with a decree dated Aug.4, 1939, Franco was declared the lifelong “supreme ruler of Spain, responsible only to God and history.”In 1973, Franco surrendered his post as prime minister, retaining only the titles of head of state and commander-in-chief of the army.  The Spanish dictator died on November 20, 1975.

Part Three

The Spanish Civil War officially ended on April 1, 1939.  But by that time Europe was no longer dealing with a mere local conflict, but a war that would engulf the entire continent.  It was time to unleash Hitler so he could do what the British needed him to do – attack the USSR.  So Great Britain moved quickly to “finish off” the Republicans in order to bring the war in Spain to its conclusion as quickly as possible.  On February 27, 1939, Britain and France formally recognized the government led by Francisco Franco and just as formally severed relations with the Republican government.  The Americans followed suit.  Soon, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Devonshire was directly assisting the Spanish rebels in their capture of the island of Menorca.  The British ship not only transported Franco’s emissary to those shores, but under threat of shelling forced the commander of the island’s naval base to hand over power to an officer loyal to Franco.[1]

At that time Adolf Hitler was collecting yet another region that lay between him and the borders of the Soviet Union.  This was Czechoslovakia.  It must be said that the creators of the treaties of Versailles and St. Germain provided the Fuhrer with a basis for his grievance against that nation.  Because of those agreements, 3.4 million former Austrian Germans found themselves residing in and accounting for 22% of the population of the new state of Czechoslovakia, a nation cobbled together from the fragments of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Historical map of Czechoslovakia (1918-1992)Czechoslovakia was one of the most successful countries to emerge from the lands that had been subjected to the carnage of World War I.  The new state of Czechs and Slovaks proved to be the only country in Central or Southeastern Europe to export capital on a broad scale.  All areas of the Czechoslovak economy saw growth, but some sectors were particularly impressive.  The most developed industries in that country were those engaged in the production of weapons and footwear.  For example, by 1928 Czechoslovakia led the world in the export of shoes, boots, and sandals.  However, this economic joyride proved short-lived – the young Czechoslovak state lasted only 20 years (from 1918 to 1938), at which point its allies from London and Paris decided to turn the country over to Hitler.  The Third Reich needed to press onward toward the borders of the USSR, and Czech workers were needed to shoe and equip the German army.

In the spring of 1938, the German press, galvanized by Hitler’s many bloodless victories, was waging an active campaign urging compliance with the demands of ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland.  The German community within the country also became more active.  The Sudeten German Party, led by Konrad Henlein, spearheaded the idea of “returning all Germans to a single Reich.”  The Austrian Anschluss provided an excellent pretext for raising the subject of the infringement of the rights of the German minority in Czechoslovakia.  After all, the Austrian Germans were now part of this “united family” – so didn’t their “Sudeten brothers” deserve the same?  Henlein’s party demanded “territorial autonomy” for the Sudetenland.

The Czechoslovak government was in no way prepared to surrender to the Germans.  They had no reason to.  The Czechoslovak army, one of the strongest in Europe, was ready to protect its country against any aggressor, and the Czechoslovaks had as much determination as they had strength.  Against 39 German divisions consisting of 1.8 million soldiers, the Czechs could field 36 divisions of 1.6 million soldiers, and against Hitler’s 2,400 aircraft and 720 tanks, Czechoslovakia could count on its own 1,500 aircraft and 400 tanks.  Nor should we forget the fact that the Czechoslovak army was in a defensive position, while the Germans would be forced to be on the offensive.

Their treaty of alliance with France also gave the leaders of Czechoslovakia grounds for optimism.  The Czechs were logically convinced that a powerful and useful ally such as Paris would not simply cave in to Berlin.  Looking at a map it is clear that if nothing else Czechoslovakia’s geographical position should have compelled the French to actively come to her defense – should France find itself in an armed conflict with Germany, the Czechs could strike the Germans from behind.  Furthermore, the Škoda military plants in the Czech lands produced as many weapons each year as the entire British arms industry.  Who in his right mind would hand Hitler such a treasure?

However, events surrounding Czechoslovakia began to take a very “strange” turn.  Instead of active resistance to Hitler’s demands, petty intrigues developed.  The result was the infamous Munich Agreement of September 1938, which gave Hitler everything he wanted.  Perhaps the West was once again frightened by Germany’s military might?  “The German armies were not capable of defeating the French in 1938 or 1939,” writes Winston Churchill.[2]  In other words, Hitler could not defeat the Czechs, the French, and the British at the same time – this was quite obvious.  Why then, did the leaders of the “democratic countries” not act more decisively?  Because they were not interested in a victory over the Germany they had spawned and reared!  No one would kill an attack dog, bred for mortal combat, before the battle.

The first conference about the fate of Czechoslovakia was held in London between April 28 and 30, 1938.  To the bewilderment of the Czechs, French statesmen suddenly endorsed the demand of English diplomats that a clash with Germany be avoided at all costs.  On May 15, 1938, a dispatch from London was published in the New York Herald-Tribune, plainly stating that since neither France nor the Soviet Union were prepared to go to war over Czechoslovakia, Britain had even less reason to take up arms to defend that Slavic republic.  And thus, Czechoslovakia should soberly assess her situation and recognize that her only option was a peaceful resolution of the question of the Sudeten Germans.[3]

Konrad Henlein, leader of the Sudeten German Party

Naturally, after such statements Hitler’s demands took on an even more uncompromising tone.  And the piece published in the American newspaper “surprisingly” coincided with a very telling event.  Two days before the New York Herald-Tribune went to press, Konrad Henlein, the head of the Sudeten German Party, arrived in London.  The very fact of such a visit prompts some speculation.  Henlein held several meetings with members of the British Parliament and the opposition.  Afterwards, his demands (and therefore the recurrent theme of his speeches) changed from autonomy to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.

Not only the German, but also the British intelligence services were actively working with the leader of the Sudeten Germans.  This was no secret in Germany, but no move was made to block this contact.  This was because at that time both the Germans and the British were playing for the same team, which was preparing to turn Czechoslovakia over to Hitler.  “The British Secret Service was quite well informed …  one of their agents, Colonel Christie, who had already conferred several times with Henlein, met him again at the beginning of August 1938, in Zurich,” read the memoirs of the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence.[4]

On July 18, 1938, Hitler’s adjutant, Captain Wiedemann, brought a personal message from Hitler to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in London.  Hitler’s proposals were deemed acceptable.  On July 22, 1938, England demanded that Czechoslovakia take decisive measures for the “pacification of Europe.”  The Czechs responded with an agreement to provide autonomy for the Sudeten Germans.  However, Henlein immediately, on July 29, 1938, made a public declaration: any German in any country should be subject to “only the German government, German laws, and the voice of German blood.”

British diplomats subsequently continued to pressure the Czechs.  On August 3, Lord Runciman, Chamberlain’s emissary, arrived in Prague.  This “impartial mediator” was actually supposed to convince Czechoslovakia to hand over the Sudetenland to the Germans.  The Czechs balked, refusing to acknowledge that everything had already long been decided for them.  On September 7, 1938, the London Times published an article urging the Czechs not to resist but to play nicely – to become a “homogeneous State.”

The Czechoslovak situation was even more curious because of the fact that in addition to the Franco-Czech agreement, an agreement between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia also existed.  In the event of an attack, the USSR was required to come to the aid of the victim of aggression.  However, there was an interesting detail in the text of the agreement:  Moscow had to render assistance to Prague only if Paris offered the same type of help.  In early September 1938, the French government asked the Soviet government what its position would be if Czechoslovakia were besieged.  Moscow’s answer was simple: representatives from the USSR, Britain, and France would have to be immediately summoned in order to issue a declaration on behalf of these powers, warning that Czechoslovakia would be offered military assistance in the event of a German attack.  As for the Soviet Union, that country was prepared to meet its obligations under its treaty.[5]

What type of reaction do you think the Soviet proposals received?  Can’t answer?  Then here’s another question: did those who had prepared Hitler for an invasion of the USSR have any need to avoid this aggression?  To instead defeat Germany using the joint forces of France, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union?  Did they need Hitler to retreat and for his advance to the Soviet border be stopped?

Since the West had a different objective, as Churchill wrote, “the Soviet offer was in effect ignored.  They were not brought into the scale against Hitler, and were treated with an indifference – not to say disdain – which left a mark in Stalin’s mind.  Events took their course as if Soviet Russia did not exist.”[6]

So rather than fending off the aggressor and taking a firm stand alongside the Soviet Union, the British “strong-armed” the Czechs.  First, it was suggested to the government of Czechoslovakia that the treaties with France and the USSR be rescinded.  Then the joint Anglo-French note of September 19 asked Prague to immediately hand over the Sudetenland to Germany.  Czechoslovakia put up a feeble resistance.  On September 20, 1938 the British and French ambassadors received the Czechoslovak government’s response.  It included a request to reconsider the decision and refer the matter for arbitration in accordance with the German-Czechoslovak treaty of 1925.

Such Czech recalcitrance could ruin everything.  The fact is that in the event of a military conflict with Germany, France was required to intervene on behalf of the Czechs!  And should this happen, the Soviet Union could come to the aid of not only Prague, but also Paris!  A system of alliances would spring into action: the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance of May 2, 1935 and the Czechoslovak-Soviet Treaty of Alliance signed on May 16, 1935.

And so London and Paris began to lose patience.  On the evening of September 20, the British ambassador, Basil Newton, told the Czech government that it should “accept the proposal without reserve and without further delay failing which His Majesty’s Government will take no further interest in the fate of your country.”  The French ambassador, Victor de Lacroix, seconded this ominous warning.  But the diplomats were still not satisfied.  At two o’clock in the morning (!) the ambassadors of “friendly” Britain and France roused the Czechoslovak president, Edvard Beneš, from his bed.  It was their fifth visit in 24 hours.  The nighttime guests presented Beneš with a note, which was in fact a true ultimatum: “If it (the government of Czechoslovakia) will not accept the Anglo-French plan, the whole world will view Czechoslovakia as being solely to blame for an inevitable war.”

On September 21, 1938, the “allies’” ultimatum was discussed at a meeting of the Czechoslovak government.  Their decision was not difficult to predict.  The ministers agreed to what would literally be their nation’s suicide.[7]

Between Sept. 29-30, 1938, the infamous Munich agreement was signed in the Bavarian capital, legalizing the transfer of the Sudetenland to Germany.  The agreement was signed by Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain, and Édouard Daladier.[8]  The Czech representatives were not even invited to this meeting between their “masters” – they merely waited in the next room to be informed of their country’s fate once all the negotiating and signing was over.  The Munich Agreement was signed in such a rush that there wasn’t even time to fill the inkstand in the room where global policy was being created.  And what did they need ink for anyway?  Everything had been arranged in advance, so the signing was but a mere formality …

Sudeten Germans greet the Fuehrer in late 1938

On Oct. 1, 1938, German troops entered Czechoslovakia.  They encountered no resistance.  Later, the German generals inspected the Czech fortifications and nodded approvingly: how wonderful that the wise Fuhrer had managed to settle the matter peacefully.  Because the Sudetenland itself was studded with top-notch battlements.  “To the surprise of experts a test bombardment showed that our weapons would not have prevailed against them,”[9] noted Albert Speer diplomatically in his memoirs.  His assessment reveals the German army’s de-facto, total inability to successfully storm the Czech fortifications.  This was why Western diplomats, soberly evaluating the Wehrmacht’s still-modest abilities, had been so insistent that Czechoslovakia surrender unconditionally!

Immediately after the signing of the Munich Agreement, act two of this cruel performance began.  “The Germans were not the only predators to rip into the corpse of Czechoslovakia.  Immediately after the signing of the Munich Agreement, the Polish government sent the Czech government an ultimatum, demanding that they immediately cede the border region of Těšín!  Although Poland was soon to become an “innocent victim” of aggression, like a true scavenger she happily rushed in to nibble off a morsel of Czech territory …

Seeing how others had so deftly managed to tap into this bonanza of free foreign territory, Hungary’s prime minister, Béla Imrédy, then protested that the interests of Czechoslovakia’s Hungarian minority had been “sidestepped.”  And he got what he wanted – on November 2, 1938, 12,000 square kilometers of southern Slovakia and a small part of the region known as Subcarpathian Ruthenia (Transcarpathia), with a population of about one million, passed into Hungarian hands.

Ribbentrop, Chamberlain, and Hitler during the negotiations in Munich that sealed the fate of Czechoslovakia

So, who presented Hitler with Vienna and Prague?

This was done by those who, despite their unswerving positions, “suddenly” allowed Austria to be annexed to the Reich.

This was done by those who, against international law, did all they could to obstruct the attempts of Spain’s legitimate government to defeat its insurgents and emphatically “took no notice” of German and Italian aid to General Franco.

This was done by those who, despite their treaty obligations, did not help Czechoslovakia, on the contrary, doing everything to ensure her capitulation.

ENDNOTES

[1] It is interesting to note that when the World War began on Sept. 1, 1939, Franco requested a loan to rebuild his country – not from his “friends” Mussolini and Hitler – but… from Great Britain.

[2]  Churchill, Winston. The Second World War. Vol. 1. The Gathering Storm. Pg. 304.

[3] As if operating under instructions, in May 1938 the “free” and “independent” British newspapers published a stream of similar articles.  On May 6, the Daily Mail denigrated Czechoslovakia in its editorial as “a disgusting state populated exclusively by racists, whose disgraceful attitude toward the German-speaking inhabitants of the Sudetenland Britain can no longer tolerate.”

[4] Schellenberg, Walter. The Labyrinth.  Pg. 34.

[5]At the height of the German-Czech crisis, the USSR entered into a state of military alert and moved 60 infantry and 16 cavalry divisions, 3 tank corps, 22 independent tank and 17 air brigades up to the border with Poland, a country that the Soviet Union needed to cross in order to go to the aid of the Czechs.  In addition, 330,000 reservists were called up and and tens of thousands of soldiers due for release were retained.  (Bullock, Alan. Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives.  Pg.  577).

[6] Churchill, Winston. The Second World War. Vol. 1. The Gathering Storm. Pgs. 274-275.

[7] More than seven decades have passed since then, but no one has learned anything.  Once again we see in Europe the same “independent,” “sovereign” states readily complying with any of their masters’ whims.  They happily install American radar and missiles within their borders, send their own soldiers off to distant Iraq without hesitation, and willingly scuttle deals with the Russian state or with private Russian companies that would be in their own best interests.  Their master speaks – and with a big smile they stick their head in the noose, just as Czechoslovakia did in September 1938.

[8] Here’s a little known fact: the day after the Munich Agreement was signed, the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, invited Hitler for a private talk.  And then he suddenly pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket: “We, the German Fuhrer and Chancellor and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting to-day and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe,” reads the document.  And “the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement” were regarded by the leaders of the two countries as “symbolic of the desire” of both nations “never to go to war with one another.”  Historians usually forget about this document.  chamberlain anglo-german agreementHowever, it must have been this unimposing agreement that ensured Hitler’s aggression toward the East, not the Munich Agreement, which dealt only with Czechoslovakia!  Chamberlain’s return to London from Munich is quite often depicted in historical documentary films.  He is standing by his airplane, shaking a piece of paper in the air, and loudly proclaims: “Peace for our time!”  And the audience thinks that British prime minister is holding a copy of the Munich Agreement.  But in fact, Neville Chamberlain is clenching this supplemental British-German Declaration.

[9] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Memoirs. Pg. 111.

By Nikolay STARIKOV (Russia)

Originally appeared at: www.orientalreview.org

ORIENTAL REVIEW publishes exclusive translations of the chapters from Nikolay Starikov’s documentary research ““Who Made Hitler Attack Stalin” (St.Petersburg, 2008). Mr. Starikov is Russian historian and civil activist. The original text was subject to minor cuts by the OR editorial.

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