London, England · October 1, 1938

The storm clouds of war in Europe seemed to have parted on this date in 1938 in London, one day after Prime Min­is­ter Neville Cham­ber­lain had returned from his triumph in Munich. Three visits to Ger­many had been required to part the clouds: the first to Berchtes­gaden in the Ger­man Alps on Septem­ber 15, 1938, the next to Bad Godes­berg near Bonn on Septem­ber 22, and the last to Munich on Septem­ber 29–30. It was the last visit that pro­duced the docu­ment (drafted by Her­mann Goering) agreed to by the Euro­pean Big Four: Ger­man dicta­tor Adolf Hitler, Ital­ian strong­man Benito Mus­so­lini, Cham­ber­lain, and Cham­ber­lain’s demo­cra­tic par­tner, French prime minister Édouard Daladier.

Following on the an­nex­a­tion (Anschluss) of Aus­tria (now chris­tened Ost­mark) into the Third Reich in March 1938, the Munich Agree­ment of Septem­ber 29, 1938, legit­i­mized Hitler’s land grab of the Sude­ten­land, the Ger­man-speaking, western­most part of Czecho­slo­va­kia that had once been a part of the Austro-Hun­ga­rian Empire before it dis­solved into new multi­ethnic states in the after­math of World War I. Czech Presi­dent Edvard Beneš was not a party to the any of the Big Four dis­cus­sions but sub­mitted under heavy Anglo-French pres­sure, pro­mising to abide by the agree­ment. Czech Sudeten­land was in­cor­po­rated into the Reich on Octo­ber 10, 1938, and the grate­ful Ger­man popu­la­tion became one of the most pro-Nazi regions of the Third Reich.

Hitler cal­lously signed a second docu­ment at Munich, pledging no fur­ther terri­torial ambi­tions. “In spite of the hard­ness and ruth­less­ness I thought I saw on his face,” Cham­ber­lain said of his meetings with Hitler, “I got the im­pres­sion that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.” It was Hitler’s written pledge of no other terri­torial inter­ests in Czecho­slo­va­kia that Cham­ber­lain famously waved to crowds at the West London air­port, declaring that he had secured “peace with honor,” which he believed was “peace for our time.” These words turned out to be Cham­ber­lain’s poli­tical epi­taph. They remain the most indel­ible sym­bol of irony and the futil­ity of appea­sing dic­tators and bullies that exist in the his­tory of World War II. But for the mo­ment, both Britain and France expressed relief that Hitler’s saber-rattling had not led to war.

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Surrender at Munich: The Munich Conference, September 29–30, 1938

Sudetenland in relation to Czech RepublicChamberlain and Hitler at the Berghof, September 15, 1938

Left: The German-speaking regions of Czechoslo­vakia (high­lighted in bur­gundy with­in an out­line map of the cur­rent Czech Republic) were popu­larly referred to in the inter­war years as Sude­ten­land. The Czech part of Czecho­slo­va­kia was sub­se­quently in­vaded by Nazi Ger­many in March 1939, with a por­tion being annexed and the remainder turned into the Pro­tec­torate of Bohe­mia and Moravia (Protek­torat Boeh­men und Maeh­ren) shown in pink on this map. The Slovak part declared its inde­pen­dence from Czecho­slo­va­kia, be­coming the Slovak Republic, a satel­lite state and ally of Nazi Germany during World War II.

Right: On September 15, 1938, Chamberlain met with Hitler at his Al­pine re­treat, the Berg­hof near Berchtes­gaden, and agreed to the ces­sion of the Sude­ten­land; three days later French Prime Minis­ter Édouard Dala­dier agreed to the same. A week later Cham­ber­lain met Hitler in Bad Godes­berg to con­firm the oral agree­ments. Hitler now demanded not only the annex­a­tion of the Sude­ten­land but the imme­di­ate mili­tary occu­pa­tion of the region, giving the Czecho­slo­vak army no time to adapt their defense measures to the new borders.

Goering plus leading European statesmen, Munich, September 29, 1938Chamberlain, Hitler, and Daladier, Munich, September 29, 1938

Left: Hermann Goering (left in photo), who authored the pro­po­sal Benito Mus­so­lini (center) pitched to Cham­ber­lain and Dala­dier (extreme right) for a Munich con­fer­ence to end the Czecho­slo­va­kian “prob­lem” (Cham­ber­lain’s words), listens to the British prime minis­ter speak through a German Foreign Office interpreter, Paul-Otto Schmidt (holding folder).

Right: Seated in comfortable chairs in Munich’s Fuehrerbau (today’s Hochschule fuer Musik und Theater Muenchen), Chamberlain, Hitler, and Dala­dier pose awkwardly for a photo­graph during the Munich Conference, September 29–30, 1938.

Chamberlain signs off on the Munich Agreement, early September 30, 1938Chamberlain on triumphal return to London, September 30, 1938

Left: Aided by the light of a table lamp, Cham­ber­lain affixes his signa­ture to the Munich Agree­ment at about 1:30 a.m. on Septem­ber 30, 1938. Standing oppo­site Cham­ber­lain on the other side of the desk is Ger­man Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop.

Right: On his triumphal return on Septem­ber 30, 1938, to West Lon­don’s Heston Aero­drome, Cham­ber­lain held aloft the Anglo-Ger­man Declara­tion signed by Hitler and him­self, the ill-famed “Peace for our time” docu­ment, which was sepa­rate from the Munich Agree­ment. Like­wise, the sur­prisingly tumul­tuous recep­tion French premier Dala­dier received on his return from Munich suggested that most French­men (the clair­voy­ant Dala­dier called his recep­tion commit­tee “les cons,” “the fools”) were as happy as the Eng­lish were with the results of the Munich Con­fer­ence. U.S. Presi­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt, upon learning of the Munich Agree­ment and the avoid­ance of a new world war, sent a two-word telegram to Chamberlain: “Good man.”

Chamberlain’s Homecoming from Munich Conference: “Peace for Our Time”