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The German Annexation of Sudetenland

The German Annexation of Sudetenland
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  • 0:03 Appeasement/The Sudetenland
  • 1:45 The Sudeten German Party
  • 2:40 German Unrest in the…
  • 3:32 The Munich Agreement
  • 4:57 Effects of Annexation
  • 5:44 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Before the outbreak of World War II, leaders in Western Europe adopted a policy of appeasement towards Germany. In an attempt to stop Hitler from invading Czechoslovakia, they allowed him to annex the Sudetenland.

Appeasement

Have you ever gone to school with a bully? Maybe that bully pushed everyone around in order to get what he wanted. Other students at school were afraid to deal with the bully. Instead of getting into a fight or telling the bully 'no,' everyone just decided to give in so they could avoid a conflict or getting hurt.

Before the start of World War II, leaders in Europe adopted a very similar policy towards German leader, Adolf Hitler, who was trying to take over Europe. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain advocated for appeasement. In other words, Chamberlain decided to give Hitler what he wants in order to avoid war in Europe. While appeasement occurred throughout the 1930s, perhaps the greatest example of giving in to Hitler's demands was the annexation of the Sudetenland.

The Sudetenland

First things first: what is the Sudetenland? The Sudetenland is an area of land between Germany, Austria, and the former Czechoslovakia named after the Sudeten Mountains. In this map, the wider outlined area in black is Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. The interior black line around the eastern portion indicates Sudetenland, named after the Sudeten Mountains, which frame the Eastern part of the country.

Map of Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland

After World War I, the territorial landscape of Europe changed drastically. The Sudetenland was taken from Austria and given to the newly formed country of Czechoslovakia. Because the land was taken from Austria (a German-speaking country), the majority of the people living there were ethnically German. Overnight, roughly 3 million Sudeten Germans became Czechoslovakian citizens.

The Sudeten German Party

As you can imagine, Austria, Germany, and the German-speaking people living in the Sudetenland were not happy with this new arrangement. Germany and Austria were close allies, and they were angered by losing the region to Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, the Germans living in the Sudetenland were equally dissatisfied with becoming a part of Czechoslovakia. These frustrations became a driving factor behind Hitler's desire to annex the Sudetenland.

During the 1930s, Hitler's Nazi Party took control of Germany, leading to a rise in German nationalism. Many Sudeten Germans embraced the Nazi Party's ideas, and began to push for a return of the Sudetenland to Germany. In 1935, the Sudeten German Party (an offshoot of the Nazi Party) captured over two-thirds of the Sudeten German vote, making them the second-largest political party in the Czechoslovakian Parliament.

German Unrest in the Sudetenland

In the spring of 1938, the Sudeten German Party leader Konrad Henlien began working closely with Adolf Hitler. On Hitler's orders, Henlien made outrageous demands of the Czechoslovakian government, including self-rule for the Sudetenland. Hitler fully expected the Czechoslovakian government to refuse Henlien's demands and used this as an opportunity to create unrest in the Sudetenland. Henlien claimed that the Czechoslovakian government was persecuting Sudeten Germans and used this as justification to incite riots in the region.

In May of 1938, Nazi troops made their way to the Czechoslovakian border, ready to invade at a moment's notice. Meanwhile, the Czechoslovakian government mobilized its troops as well. By September, the Sudetenland was under martial law.

The Munich Agreement

As tensions escalated in the Sudetenland, countries like Great Britain and France eyed the region with extreme concern. They knew that Hitler planned to take over the Sudetenland, but after the devastation of World War I, they wanted to avoid military conflict at all costs.

On September 15, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden to discuss the impending Sudetenland crisis. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Chamberlain told Hitler that Germany could have the Sudetenland. After their meeting, Chamberlain was tasked with convincing both France and Czechoslovakia to accept this agreement.

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