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On January 30, 1933, the Nazis acquired mastery of Germany when Adolf
Hitler was appointed chancellor. That evening Hitler stood triumphantly
in the window of the Reich Chancellery waving to thousands of storm
troopers who staged parades throughout the streets of Berlin. The Nazis
proclaimed that their Third Reich would be the greatest civilization in
history and would last for thousands of years. But the meteoric rise of
Hitler and national socialism was followed by an almost equally rapid
defeat; the Third Reich survived for a mere twelve years. But one of the
main causes of World War II was Hitlerís public justification for the
dismemberment of the Czech state through either war or diplomacy was the
plight of the 3.5 million ethnic Germans the Treaty of Versailles had
left inside Czechoslovakia. The main land that Hitler wanted to annex to
Germany was that of the Sudetenland, where most of the people living
there were of German origin. The land also bordered Germany to the South
East, and Germany was prepared to conquer this land at all cost.
"And now before us stands the last problem that must be solved and will
be solved It (the Sudetenland) is the last territorial claim which I
have to make in Europe, but it is the claim from which I will not
recedeÖ" - Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin, September 26 1938, just
prior to the Munich conference.
Most of the German minorities live in Sudetenland, an economically
valuable and strategically important area along the Czech border with
Germany and Austria. The grievances of the Sudeten Germans against the
Czech state had led to the rise of a strong German nationalist movement
in the Sudetenland. By the mid -1930ís, this movement had the support of
almost 70 percent of the Sudeten German population. Their leader, the
pro-Nazi Konrad Heinlen, began demanding autonomy for this region Both
the real and contrived problems of the Sudeten Germans added credibility
to Hitlerís charge that they were denied the right of self-determination
and lived as an oppressed minority, which he was obligated to defend In
the spring of 1938, Heinlein was directed by Hitler to make demands that
the Czechs could not accept, thereby giving Germany a reason to
intervene. The Czech situation soon turned into an international crisis
that dominated the European scene for the rest of that current year.
The weekend which began on Friday, May 20, 1938, developed into a
critical one and would later be remembered as the "May crisis." During
the ensuing forty-eight hours, the Governments in London, Paris, Prague
and Moscow were panicked into the belief that Europe stood nearer to
war than it had at any time since the summer of 1914. This may have been
largely due to the possibility that new plans for a German attack on
Czechoslovakia called "Case Green" which were drawn up for him, got
leaked out. Hitler had begun to prepare an attack on the Sudetenland.
The target date was the beginning of October. He was prepared to employ
an army of ninety-six divisions. The Czechoslovak Government, aware of
Hitlerís intentions but uncertain when the blow would fall, ordered a
partial mobilization on May 21. Hitler was outraged, explaining to his
generals that he had offered no threat and was being treated with
contempt. He had been humiliated, and no one yet humiliated him with
impunity. His rage against Czechoslovakia increased, and on May 30 he
issued a secret directive to his high command: "It is my unalterable
decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future."
All through the summer Britain, France and the Soviet Union were aware
that Hitler planned to strike at the Sudetenland and perhaps the whole
of Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovaks had an excellent intelligence
system with Germany and knew from day to day what Hitler was planning.
Germany also had an excellent intelligence system, and in addition it
had in Konrad Henlein, the National Socialist leader in the Sudetenland,
a man who would stop at nothing to produce an insurrection or an act of
deliberate provocation against the Czechoslovak Government. The German
newspapers were filled with accounts of mass arrests of innocent men and
women in the Sudetenland, and there were the inevitable circumstantial
stories "by our correspondent." Nonexistent people in nonexistent
villages were being slaughtered. The Czechoslovak Government attempted
to refute some of these stories but gave up in despair. Hitler ordered a
massive propaganda barrage against Czechoslovakia to prepare the German
people for the October invasion.
On September 12th at Nuremberg, Hitler went as close to declaring war
against Czechoslovakia as possible without actually signing the order to
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World War II, Politics, Political history, Munich Agreement, Sudetenland, Partition, Nazism, Adolf Hitler, Sudeten Germans, Neville Chamberlain, Causes of World War II, Konrad Henlein
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