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 British 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, Premier Édouard Daladier of France.

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. To Czecho­slo­vakia the Sude­ten­land was of immense econo­mic and stra­tegic impor­tance, being both home to much of the country’s heavy industry and the location of its front-line defenses. Edvard Beneš, Czecho­slovakia’s presi­dent, was not a party to the any of the Big Four dis­cus­sions but caved in under heavy Anglo-French pres­sure, pro­mising to abide by the four-power agree­ment. Days later Czech Sudeten­land was in­cor­po­rated into the Reich—this on Octo­ber 10, 1938—and its grate­ful ethnic Ger­man popu­la­tion became one of the most pro-Nazi regions of the Third Reich.

Hitler cal­lously signed a second docu­ment in 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 Republic Chamberlain 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 (Czech home­land) 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 light 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 (shown here), and agreed to the ces­sion of Czech Sude­ten­land; three days later French Premier 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, 1938 Chamberlain, Hitler, and Daladier, Munich, September 29, 1938

Left: Hitler (second from right in photo) and Hermann Goering (on left), who authored the proposal Benito Musso­lini (center) pitched to Cham­ber­lain and Dala­dier (extreme right) for a European summit to end the Czechoslovakian “problem” (Cham­ber­lain’s words), listen 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, 1938 Chamberlain 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 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”