|WHAT WAS CHAMBERLAIN TRYING TO DO?
Name: _________________________________________________ Period: _____
After the First World War, the map of Europe was re-drawn and several new countries were formed. As a result of this, three million Germans found themselves now living in part of Czechoslovakia. When Adolf Hitler came to power, he wanted to unite all Germans into one nation.
In September 1938 he turned his attention to the three million Germans living in part of Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland. Sudeten Germans began protests and provoked violence from the Czech police. Hitler claimed that 300 Sudeten Germans had been killed. This was not actually the case, but Hitler used it as an excuse to place German troops along the Czech border.
During this situation, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, flew to meet Hitler at his private mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden in an attempt to resolve the crisis. Three of the documents here are extracts from Chamberlain's own record of the meeting. The other two documents are useful evidence of the kind of advice Chamberlain was getting at home in Britain.
When we are all done with this assignment, you will be able to answer the following question:
Is it unfair for us to criticize Chamberlain for misjudging Hitler?
The Treaty of Versailles, made in 1919 at the end of the First World War, was intended to make a lasting peace. Many people felt that the Treaty had caused terrible resentment in Germany on which Hitler had been able to play in order to achieve power. The government believed that Hitler and Germany had genuine grievances, but that if these could be met ('appeased') Hitler would be satisfied and become less demanding.
Hitler was open about his refusal to accept many of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Soon after he became Chancellor of Germany in 1933 he began to re-arm the country, breaking the restrictions placed on the German armed forces. In 1936, he sent German troops into the Rhineland and in March 1938 he joined Germany and Austria. Czechoslovakia was the logical next step for his aggression and German Nazis in the Sudetenland were told to stir up the trouble that led to the crisis examined here. Edvard Benes, the leader of Czechoslovakia, was concerned that if Germany was given the Sudetenland, most of the Czech defenses would be handed over to the Germans and they would be left defenseless.
Chamberlain's flight to Berchtesgaden was followed by another to Godesberg a week later and then another to Munich on 29 September. At Munich, Chamberlain got an international agreement that Hitler should have the Sudetenland in exchange for Germany making no further demands for land in Europe. Chamberlain said it was 'Peace in our time'. Hitler said he had 'No more territorial demands to make in Europe.' On 1 October German troops occupied the Sudetenland: Hitler had got what he wanted without firing a shot.
Although people in Britain were relieved that war had been averted, many now wondered if appeasement was the best decision. They did not think it would stop Hitler, and simply delayed the war, rather than prevented it. Even while Chamberlain was signing the Munich Agreement, he was agreeing a huge increase in spending to increase Britain's armament in preparation for war. He must have known from the situation outlined to him by General Ismay, that Czechoslovakia was lost, that war was bound to come.
Six months later, in March 1939, German troops took over the rest of Czechoslovakia. Poland seemed to be the next most likely victim of Nazi aggression and Chamberlain made an agreement with the Poles to defend them in Germany invaded. Hitler did not think Britain would go to war over Poland, having failed to do so over Czechoslovakia. He sent his soldiers into Poland in September 1939. The same day, Britain declared war on Germany.
Chamberlain struggled on as Prime Minister until May 1940 when he resigned and Winston Churchill, a bitter critic of appeasement, took over. Chamberlain died in November 1940; however he continued to be vilified for appeasement in general and for his actions in September 1938 in particular long after his death and the conclusion of the war.
These sources are extracts from a letter written by Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador in Germany, 6th September 1938, about Chamberlain’s meeting with Hitler.
# 1 - Source 1A:
It is no exaggeration to say that the world is awaiting with anxiety the message which Hitler has to deliver at Nuremberg. He cannot get out of delivering it: that must be realized. The anxiety is no less great in Germany than elsewhere. And dictators can & must speak more clearly than the leaders of a democracy, That is why I have been pressing these last weeks for a clarification before Nuremberg of the situation at Prague. Benes (President of Czechoslovakia) will never go far enough till he is made to do so: & the whole of the Carlsbad points is better than any terms he is likely to get later, war or no war.
Were the German people nervous about the outcome of the Sudetenland? What does Henderson mean when he says ‘'Benes will never go far enough till he is made to do so'?
#2- Source 1B::
I suppose the chances of Hitler coming out at Nuremberg with what will amount to peace or what will amount to war (thunder there is sure to be) are about 50-50. I opt for the former. If I am right I do wish it might be possible to get at any rate the Times, Camrose, Beaverbrook Press etc. to write up Hitler as an apostle of Peace. It will be terribly shortsighted if this is not done. Cannot the News Dept help?
[Camrose was the owner of the Daily Telegraph at the time, Lord Beaverbrook owned the Daily Express]
We make a great mistake when our Press persists in abusing him. Let it abuse his evil advisers but give him a chance of being a good boy. If our object is to achieve results that is the only line to take. If our only satisfaction is to slang him, then we must abandon hope of ever getting results.
What does Henderson want the British press to do about Hitler? What is his opinion of Hitler?
These three sources are extracts from the minutes of the conversation between Chamberlain and Hitler at Berchtesgaden.
#3 - Source 2A:
He said that he had from his youth been obsessed with the racial theory and he felt that the Germans were one, but he had drawn a distinction between the possible and the impossible and he recognized that there are places where Germans are where it is impossible to bring them into the Reich; but where they are on the frontier, it is a different matter, and he is himself concerned with ten millions of Germans, three millions of whom are in Czechoslovakia. He felt therefore that those Germans should come into the Reich. They wanted to and he was determined that they should come in.
It was impossible that Czechoslovakia should remain like a spearhead in the side of Germany -
So I said "Hold on a minute: there is one point on which I want to be clear and I will explain why: you say that the three million Sudeten Germans must be included in the Reich: would you be satisfied with that and is there nothing more that you want? I ask because there are many people who think that is not all; that you wish to dismember Czechoslovakia."
He then launched into a long speech: he was out for a racial unity and he did not want a lot of Czechs. All he wanted was Sudeten Germans.
Summarize what was said between Hitler and Chamberlain:
#4 - Source 2b:
I was then going on to some further questions on the subject when he said "But all this seems to be academic; I want to get down to realities. Three hundred Sudetens have been killed and things of that kind cannot go on: the thing has got to be settled at once: I am determined to settle it: I do not care whether there is a world war or not: I am determined to settle it and to settle it soon and I am prepared to risk a world war rather than allow this to drag on."
To that I replied: "If the Fuehrer is determined to settle this matter by force without waiting even for a discussion between ourselves to take place what did he let me come here for? I have wasted my time.
What threat does Hitler make and how does Chamberlain respond?
#5 - Source 2c:
I could give him my personal opinion which was that on principle I had nothing to say against the separation of the Sudeten Germans from the rest of Czechoslovakia, provided that the practical difficulties could be overcome.
What does Chamberlain suggest to Hitler and does he have the right to make this offer?
This is the conclusion of a note from General Ismay to the British Cabinet sent on 20th September 1938, marked 'Secret'. Ismay was Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defense and a close advisor to Chamberlain.
#6 Source 3a:
The broad conclusions of this Note may be summarized as follows :-
A German absorption of Czechoslovakia will enhance her military prestige, increase her war potential and probably enable her to dispose of stronger land forces against France and ourselves than she can do at present.
So far as air power is concerned, Germany may be able to maintain her lead over the Franco-British Air Forces in air striking power. On the other hand, it is open to us, provided that we make the necessary effort, to catch her up, or at least greatly reduce her lead, in the matter of defense (both active and passive) against air attack. By so doing we shall have heavily insured ourselves against the greatest danger to which we are present exposed: indeed by substantially reducing Germany's only chance of a rapid decision, we shall have provided a strong deterrent against her making the attempt.
It follows, therefore, that, from the military point of view, time is in our favour and that, if war with Germany has to come, it would be better to fight her in say 6-12 months' time, than to accept the present challenge.
What does the General assume will happen to Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland? What does he recommend Britain do about Germany?
Pulling it all together: Use the sources above as well as any other knowledge you may have about the situation in the Sudetenland to answer the following:
What did you learn about Hitler’s character throughout these documents? What about Chamberlain?
What are the arguments for and against appeasement?
Is it unfair for us to criticize Chamberlain for misjudging Hitler?