Unhappy Anniversary: A Wolfsonian Reflection on the Abandonment of the Czechs and the Appeasement of Hitler, Munich, 1938

As is clear from some editorial cartoons published by the American cartoonist Vaughn Shoemaker (creator of “John Q. Public”) in September, 1938, Europeans experienced another great “war scare.” That month, Adolf Hitler made demands for a “greater Germany” and initiated a campaign of threats, bluff, and bluster designed to carve out more territory in the “heart” of Europe.

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The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

Flushed with his recent success in engineering the relatively bloodless annexation of Austria into his “greater Germany,” in September, 1938, Herr Hitler turned his attention and appetite on the “German-speaking Sudetenland,” determined to wrest it away from the Czechoslovakian Republic created in the wake of the First World War. Hitler’s demands on September 22nd for the “immediate cession” of the territory and the removal of the Czech population by the month’s end triggered troop mobilization in Czechoslovakia and France and the threat of another European war.

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The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

In an attempt to avert the crisis, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier traveled to Munich to meet with Herr Hitler. If the Czechs hoped that Britain and France would honor their commitment to defend their nation in the event of a German invasion, the pact signed in Munich must have come as a grave shock.

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The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

While Daladier was against appeasing and encouraging Nazi Germany’s aggressive and expansionist aims, his British counterpart was unprepared and unwilling to go to war over Czechoslovakia. In fact, Chamberlain not only cheerfully signed the Munich Pact, but stayed behind to sign another document with Hitler to ensure the future of an Anglo-German peace. Returning to England, Chamberlain addressed crowds of ecstatic Londoners claiming that the Munich Pact had secured “peace with honor” and “peace in our time.”

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The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

The peace celebrations were decidedly short-lived, at least for the Czechoslovaks. The day after Chamberlain’s self-congratulatory speech in London, the Czechoslovak government capitulated to Hitler’s annexation demands, knowing their tiny army could not stand alone against the mighty German Wehrmacht.

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The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Having whetted his insatiable appetite with the Sudetenland, Hitler annexed the remainder of the country in March 1939 and the Czech nation ceased to exist.

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The WolfsonianFIU

While Neville Chamberlain momentarily appeared to be the master negotiator who saved the world from the threat of a second “Great War,” history has been less kind to his image and his influence. In a political parody of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland published before the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Chamberlain is depicted as the hookah-smoking caterpillar besting a diminutive Hitler.

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The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Pamela K. Harer

After Nazi Germany invaded Poland and provoked the Second World War, the British Prime Minister’s policy of appeasement fell into immediate disrepute, and images of Chamberlain are far less flattering.

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The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Martijn F. Le Coultre

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The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

For the Czechs, of course, that disillusionment came much earlier.

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The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

~ by "The Chief" on September 30, 2015.

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