The Munich Conference of 1938: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Ashley Kannan

Ashley has taught history, literature, and political science and has a Master's Degree in Education

Have you ever heard of a no-win situation? The Munich Conference was just that. This lesson will discuss the conference, the intentions of each participant, and why it failed to stop WWII.

The Munich Conference was held in Munich in 1938. There, Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Minister; Edouard Daladier, the French Premiere, Benito Mussolini, the Italian Dictator, and Adolph Hitler, the German Fuhrer met to discuss terms that would satisfy Germany and avoid a second world war.

Adolf Hitler's Demands

As Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany, his ambitions grew beyond Germany's borders. Hitler sought to expand Germany for a variety of reasons. One of these was his belief in 'blood and soil.' This philosophy emphasized a unity of Germans 'in the same reich' wherever they might live. This was demonstrated when he took over Austria in early 1938. He was able to do so without any foreign opposition, and so Hitler then set his sights on Czechoslovakia.

Continuing his emphasis of Pan-Germanism, or the philosophy that all German people should be united under one government, Hitler made the argument that the more than three million Germans who were living in the Czechoslovakia should be included in Germany. Hitler called the area with the highest concentration of German citizens 'Sudetenland' in recognition of the Sudetes mountain range that extended into Germany. Hitler stressed that he would act politically and militarily in the name of Germans in the region.

Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia with the darker shading reflecting higher German population

The Czechoslovakian Government did not agree to Hitler's demands. The democratic government believed that it would enjoy support from England, another democracy, and France, with whom it had a military alliance. However, Czechoslovakia was in a difficult predicament because it was the only democracy in central Europe and it lacked stability in terms of age, being just 20 years old when Hitler's demands besieged it.

In May 1938, Hitler made plans to use the military in order to invade Czechoslovakia. He delivered a passionate speech in September claiming that the Czechoslovakian government was trying to gradually exterminate the German population. Hitler made it clear that military force was would be used to protect his coveted 'blood and soil.'

The Munich Conference of 1938

The day after the speech, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain personally met with Hitler to find a solution to avoid war. Chamberlain believed that war was not prudent for England, and, given the horrors of World War I, it needed to be averted at all costs.

Hitler told Chamberlain that war could be avoided if Sudetenland were unified with Germany. After leaving the meeting to consult with his cabinet and French premiere Eduoard Daladier, it was agreed that the Czechoslovakian government should give into Hitler's demands. Any territory where there was a German population that was over 50% of the total Sudetenland population would be ceded to Germany.

The government agreed on September 21; however, the next day, Hitler added to his demands. He indicated that Germanic people in Poland and Hungary should become part of Nazi Germany. Hitler repeated his intention to use his army to assist German expansion in protecting the rights of German people wherever they might live. He also established October 1 as when military operations against Czechoslovakia would begin.

Prime Minister Chamberlain and French Premiere Daledier headed off to Munich to host a conference that they hoped would avert war. They requested Hitler's European alliance partner, Benito Mussolini, to attend in the hopes of persuasion. In the early morning hours of September 30, a day before Hitler's imposed deadline to use force, an agreement was reached.

Photo of Chamberlain, Daledier, Hitler, Mussolini, and advisor to Mussolini before the Munich Pact was signed

The Munich Conference concluded that the Sudetenland territory would be ceded to Germany. In addition, Hitler would take over portions of Czechoslovakia provided he would not seek further expansion. The Czechoslovakian government was told that it could challenge Hitler to war, but it would do so without any support.

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