The History Place - The Triumph of Adolf Hitler

Nazis Take Czechoslovakia

Shortly after he signed the Munich Agreement in September 1938, Adolf Hitler privately complained to members of his SS bodyguard, "That fellow Chamberlain spoiled my entrance into Prague."

Hitler originally wanted to smash Czechoslovakia via a lighting military strike and then make a Caesar-like entry into the old capital city. But he had been overwhelmed by the eagerness of Britain and France to serve Czechoslovakia to him "on a plate."

For Hitler, the Munich Agreement was nothing more than a worthless piece of paper. On October 21st, just three weeks after signing the document, he informed his generals that they should begin planning for "the liquidation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia."


Hitler had promised British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the German people that the Sudetenland would be his "last territorial demand" in Europe. In reality, it was only the beginning. And Hitler now wanted to grab the remainder of Czechoslovakia due to its strategic importance.

By now, the Nazis had perfected the art of stealing neighboring territory. They would start by encouraging political unrest inside the area. At the same time, they would wage a propaganda campaign citing real or imagined wrongs committed against local Germans. When neighboring political leaders finally came to see to Hitler to resolve the ongoing crisis, they would be offered help in the form of a German Army occupation to "restore order."

The new political leader of Czechoslovakia was 66-year-old Dr. Emil Hácha, an inexperienced politician with a bad heart condition. He had replaced Czech President Eduard Benes who fled to England after the Munich Agreement fearing assassination by the Nazis. Hácha now presided over an ever-shrinking republic. By early 1939, two outlying border areas had already been seized by Poland and Hungary with Hitler's approval.

At Hitler's instruction, nationalist Slovaks living in the eastern portion of Czechoslovakia began agitating for a completely independent state, which would take another huge chunk out of Czechoslovakia. On March 10, 1939, President Hácha responded to the Slovak demand for independence by ousting the leaders of the Slovak government and declaring martial law inside the province of Slovakia.

Hácha's unexpected and defiant action took the Nazis by surprise, upsetting their carefully laid plans. Hitler reacted to this turn of events just as he had when Schuschnigg took a defiant stance in Austria – he ordered his generals to prepare for an immediate invasion.

Meanwhile, the pro-German Slovak leader, Monsignor Tiso, was summoned to Berlin to see Hitler. Tiso arrived at the Chancellery on Monday evening, March 13th, and was told by Hitler that the situation in Czechoslovakia had become "impossible." Time was running out said Hitler. Tiso had to decide right then and there whether Slovakia wanted to break off from Czechoslovakia and become an independent country. Hitler promised Tiso that he would protect Slovakia after its independence was proclaimed.

Tiso hesitated briefly then decided to go along with Hitler. The Nazis then drafted a proclamation of independence for Tiso to use, along with a phony telegram to be sent later containing an appeal for the Führer's protection.

The following day, Tuesday, March 14th, Tiso returned home and presented the independence proclamation to Slovakia's parliament. He told the assembly that if they failed to approve this proclamation, Hitler's troops would simply march in and take Slovakia. Faced with this prospect, the Slovak assembly gave in and voted with Tiso. Thus the independent country of Slovakia was born.

A night-time view of the imposing new Reich Chancellery building in Berlin - setting for the last in a series of bloodless diplomatic triumphs by Hitler. Below: Revealing body language - the diminutive President Hácha (center) speaks with the Führer during their March 15 meeting - held in the early morning hours in Hitler's ornate study room.
Below: Later that same day - March 15th - Hitler is in Prague, capital of the former Czechoslovakia - and reviews his own troops.
Below: Deep inside the former Czechoslovakia, residents of the city of Brno (in Moravia) watch as Hitler's troops roll in.

Now, all that remained of shrunken Czechoslovakia were the two central provinces of Bohemia and Moravia. At this point, Goebbels' propaganda machine went into high gear spreading reports of alleged persecution of local Germans there by Czechs. Out of convenience, or perhaps out of laziness, Goebbels' propaganda people used the same fake newspaper stories they had printed six months earlier concerning the Czech "reign of terror" in the Sudetenland.

President Hácha, bewildered by all that was happening to Czechoslovakia, sent a message to Hitler asking for a face-to-face meeting to resolve the ongoing crisis. Hitler, of course, agreed to see him as soon as possible.

Hácha was unable to fly due to his heart condition and arrived by train in Berlin at 10:40 p.m. on Tuesday evening. He was met by Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and taken to the Adlon Hotel to await Hitler's call.

Nearly three hours later, at 1:15 a.m., Hácha was finally summoned to the Reich Chancellery to see the Führer. At this meeting, Hitler let the Czech president speak first and for as long as he wanted. President Hácha proceeded to humble himself unabashedly in the presence of the all-powerful German dictator. He disavowed any link with the previous democratic government in Czechoslovakia and promised to work toward eliminating any anti-German sentiment among his people. He then pleaded for mercy on behalf of his little country.

But Hácha's pitiful pleading brought out the worst in Hitler, a man who had utter contempt for human weakness. When Hácha finished his monologue, Hitler launched into a blistering attack, citing all of the alleged wrongs committed by Czechs against Germans.

Working himself into a self-induced state of rage, Hitler hollered out that his patience with Czechoslovakia had ended, and that the German Army was about to invade the country, beginning in just a few hours.

Now, the Führer bellowed, the Czech people had two options. They could offer futile resistance and be violently crushed, or, the president could sign a document telling his countrymen to peacefully receive the incoming troops. The president had to decide soon. The troops would march in regardless beginning at 6 a.m. that morning.

President Hácha, taken completely by surprise, was at first too shocked to respond and just sat there as if he had turned to stone. Hitler was done with him for the time being and sent him into an adjoining room for further discussions with Göring and Ribbentrop.

The two Nazis immediately pounced on the sickly president, badgering him to sign the surrender document which was placed on the table before him. But Hácha, after regaining his composure, refused outright. The Nazis insisted again, even pushing a pen at him. He refused again. Now, Göring played his trump card. He told the Czech president that unless he signed, half of Prague would be bombed to ruins within two hours by the German Air Force. Upon hearing this, the frail president collapsed onto the floor.

The Nazis panicked, thinking they had killed the man with fright. Hitler's personal physician, Dr. Theodor Morell, was rushed in and injected the president with vitamins to revive him. When Hácha recovered his senses, the Nazis stuck a telephone in his hands, connecting him with his government back in Prague. Hácha spoke into the telephone and reluctantly advised his government to surrender peacefully to the Nazis.

After this, Hácha was ushered back into Hitler's presence. At 3:55 a.m., Wednesday, March 15th, the Czech president signed the document stating he had "confidently placed the fate of the Czech people and country in the hands of the Führer of the German Reich."

Two hours later, amid a late winter snowstorm, the German Army rolled into the first non-Germanic territory to be taken by the Nazis.

"Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist!" Hitler announced to the German people later that day, just before departing for Prague. That evening, Hitler made his long-awaited entry into the grand old city at the head of ten vehicle convoy. But there were no cheering crowds. The streets of Prague were deserted.

Hitler spent the night in Prague's Hradschin Castle, former home to the Kings of Bohemia. The next day, Thursday, March 16th, from inside the castle, Hitler issued a proclamation establishing the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. "Czechoslovakia," Hitler declared, "showed its inherent inability to survive and has therefore now fallen victim to actual dissolution."

That same day, Tiso sent his pre-arraigned telegram from Slovakia urgently requesting the Führer's protection. The two-day-old independent country of Slovakia thus ceased to exist as the German Army rolled in, supposedly at the request of the Slovaks themselves.

At this point, the whole world waited to see how Prime Minister Chamberlain would react to the incredible happenings in Czechoslovakia, all of which were gross violations of the Munich Agreement.

Chamberlain responded to Hitler's aggression by claiming the British were not bound to protect Czechoslovakia since the country in effect no longer existed after Slovakia had voted for independence on March 14th. And Hitler's actions had occurred the next day, March 15th.

The Prime Minister's willy-nilly statement caused an uproar in the British press and in the House of Commons. Chamberlain was lambasted over his lack of moral outrage concerning Hitler's gangster diplomacy. Angry members of the House of Commons vowed that Britain would never again appease Hitler.

Interestingly, while traveling on a train from London to Birmingham on Friday, March 17, Chamberlain underwent a complete change of heart. He had in his hand a prepared speech discussing routine domestic matters that he was supposed to give in Birmingham. But upon deep reflection, he decided to junk the speech and outlined a brand new one concerning Hitler.

In the new speech, which was broadcast throughout England on radio, Chamberlain first apologized for his lukewarm reaction to Hitler's recent actions in Czechoslovakia. Then he recited a list of broken promises made by Hitler dating back to the Munich Agreement.

"The Führer," Chamberlain asserted, "has taken the law into his own hands."

"Now we are told that this seizure of territory has been necessitated by disturbances in Czechoslovakia...If there were disorders, were they not fomented from without?"

"Is this the last attack upon a small state or is it to be followed by others? Is this, in effect, a step in the direction of an attempt to dominate the world by force?"

If so, Chamberlain declared: "No greater mistake could be made than to suppose that because it believes war to be a senseless and cruel thing, this nation has so lost its fiber that it will not take part to the utmost of its power in resisting such a challenge if it ever were made."

Now, for the first time in the history of the Third Reich, Great Britain had finally declared it would stand up to the German dictator and was willing to fight.

The next day, March 18, British diplomats informed the Nazis that Hitler's occupation of Czechoslovakia was "a complete repudiation of the Munich Agreement...devoid of any basis of legality." The French also lodged a strong protest saying they "would not recognize the legality of the German occupation."

However, Hitler and the Nazis could care less what they thought. Hitler had seen his "enemies" at Munich and considered them to be little worms.

But now, in an ominous development for Hitler, Britain and France went beyond mere diplomatic protests. On March 31st, Prime Minister Chamberlain issued a solid declaration, with the backing of France, guaranteeing Hitler's next likely victim, Poland, from Nazi aggression.

The era of Hitler's bloodless conquests had ended. The next time German troops rolled into foreign territory there would be an actual shooting war.

It had been just six months since the Munich Agreement and there were only about six months left until the outbreak of World War II. During these months, the various countries of Europe formed military alliances, choosing up sides like schoolboys preparing for a game of football – France with Britain and Poland, Italy with Germany and so forth. No one, however, could figure out what Soviet Russia under Josef Stalin would do.

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