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Eduard Benes

Eduard Benes

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Eduard Benes, was born into a peasant family at Kozlany, Bohemia in 1884. He was educated in Prague, Dijon and Paris where he gained a doctorate in sociology.

On the outbreak of the First World War Benes was professor of sociology in Prague. The following year he escaped from Austria-Hungary and went to Paris where he joined with Tomas Masaryk in the fight for Czechoslovakian independence. The two men formed the Czechoslovak National Council with Benes its first general secretary. Throughout the rest of the war Benes worked to persuade the Allies to support the establishment of an independent state for the Czech people.

As a result of the Versailles Peace Treaty the independent state of Czechoslovakia was established. Benes became foreign minister of the new country. He worked hard for the League of Nations and attempted to obtain good relations with other nations in Europe.

Benes replaced Tomas Masaryk when he retired as president in 1935. He considered the Munich Agreement negotiated by Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler as a grave betrayal and resigned from office and went into voluntary exile.

In 1941 Benes became head of a Czechoslovakia provisional government in London. In March 1945 Benes flew to Moscow and along with Jan Masaryk accompanied the Russian-sponsored Czechoslovak Corps that liberated the country from Germany.

Benes remained president of Czechoslovakia for three years. After Klement Gottwald formed a pro-communist government in February 1948 he attempted to keep his presidential role neutral in the struggle for power. In June 1948, when it became clear that Gottwald intended to introduce a Russian-style political system, Benes resigned from office. Eduard Benes died a broken man three months later.

BENEŠ, EDUARD (1884–1948)

Second (1935–1938) and fourth (1945–1948) president of Czechoslovakia.

Born in the village of Kožlany into a family of ten children, Eduard Beneš supported himself during his studies in Prague and abroad (Paris, Berlin, London), receiving a doctorate of laws in 1908. Beneš came to prominence during World War I as one of three founders of Czechoslovakia, along with Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and the Slovak leader Milan R. Štefánik. Although he first hoped that the multiethnic Austrian Monarchy could be transformed into a modern federation, under the influence of Masaryk he began to work toward breaking up the Habsburg Empire. At the Paris Peace Conference, Beneš excelled as a diplomat in gaining considerable territories for the new republic, especially in its eastern half against the claims of Hungary. However, in addition to absorbing too many ethnic minorities, Czechoslovakia's new borders proved too extenuated to be effectively defended.

Throughout the interwar period Beneš controlled Czechoslovakia's foreign policy. This was true also after his election as the country's second president, replacing the aged Masaryk in 1935. Against the double threat of Hungarian revisionism and Habsburg restoration he prevailed upon Romania and Yugoslavia to join Czechoslovakia in forming in 1919 the Little Entente. Apart from maintaining the Versailles system and very actively promoting the League of Nations, Beneš became one of the leading advocates of collective security, which received a substantial boost through the Franco-Soviet military assistance pact of 1935 and which Czechoslovakia joined. However, other countries refused to participate, and the French, under British influence, decided to appease the fascist powers instead of restraining them. The German annexation of Austria in March 1938 signaled the outbreak of the Sudeten crisis, which was settled at the infamous Munich conference at the end of September.

Facing the threat of military attack by Adolf Hitler, who pledged to rescue the German-speaking population of Czechoslovakia, Beneš and his government succumbed to joint Anglo-French pressure and agreed to German occupation of the Sudetenland. Following Munich, Beneš resigned his presidency and went into exile to London with his wife. In early 1939 the Benešes left for the United States. Heralded as "Europe's most distinguished democrat," Beneš taught at the University of Chicago. Here he experienced the shock of Hitler's invasion of Prague on 15 March 1939 and the disintegration of Czechoslovakia. What followed was arguably Beneš's finest performance as, still a private person, he condemned the German occupation as an act of barbarism and breach of the Munich settlement. On 28 May 1939 Beneš met secretly with Franklin D. Roosevelt and left with the impression that the U.S. president wished to restore Czechoslovakia if the United States entered the war. He returned to London a few weeks before the German assault on Poland. Beneš's activities concentrated on the difficult task of maintaining unity among Czechoslovakia's exiles, boosting through radio broadcasts the morale of those suffering under occupation, and achieving the full recognition of his exile government from the Allied forces. After Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 the Soviets began to support the restoration of Czechoslovakia within its pre-1938 borders. Beneš saw this erroneously as a confirmation of his theory of convergence, whereby Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union was bound to adopt some democratic reforms because of the close wartime alliance with Britain and the United States. Against British warnings but anxious to secure the best terms, Beneš went to Moscow in December 1943 to sign with Stalin the treaty of assistance and postwar cooperation. What followed was a steady retreat on Beneš's part under the pressure exercised by Moscow and Czechoslovak Communists.

Still deeply traumatized by the betrayal of Western powers in 1938, Beneš argued that he needed common border with the Soviet Union in order to receive military assistance to thwart a future German invasion. With regard to internal changes, Beneš issued a series of decrees ordering the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians, confiscation of their property and that of the Nazi collaborators, and nationalization of banks and heavy industry. He opposed, as in the past, Slovak aspirations for autonomy. His deteriorating health was exploited unscrupulously by Moscow and domestic Communists. Thus he had no strength to resist when Stalin vetoed Czechoslovak participation in the Marshall Plan. When it came to the showdown between Communists and noncommunists in February 1948, Beneš failed to support the latter, and by remaining in office he legalized the Communist takeover. In May 1948, nevertheless, Beneš finally refused to sign a Communist-sponsored constitution and resigned as president. After abdicating, the sick Beneš tried in vain to finish his wartime memoirs. He died of a stroke on 3 September 1948.

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Birth and family Edit

Eduard Beneš was born into a peasant family in 1884 in the small town of Kožlany, Bohemia, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was the youngest son and tenth child overall of Matěj Beneš (1843–1910) and Anna Petronila (née Beneš [2] 1840–1909). [3] [4] One of his siblings was the future Czechoslovak politician Vojta Beneš. His nephew through his brother Václav was Bohuš Beneš, a diplomat and author. Bohuš was the father of Emilie Benes Brzezinski, an American sculptor, and Václav E. Beneš, a Czech-American mathematician. [5]

Education and marriage Edit

Beneš spent much of his youth in the Vinohrady district of Prague, where he attended a grammar school from 1896 to 1904. His landlord's family was acquainted with his future wife Anna Vlčková (1885–1974, later Hana Benešová) (cs). The two would study French, history, and literature together at the Sorbonne. Edvard and Anna got engaged in May 1906, and married in November 1909. Some time after their engagement, Anna changed her name to Hana. Edvard had always preferred to call her Hana, because he had just ended a relationship with another woman named Anna. Around the same time, Edvard Beneš also changed his name, going from the original spelling "Eduard" to "Edvard". [6] [7]

He played soccer as an amateur for Slavia Prague. [8] After studying philosophy at Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague, Beneš left for Paris and continued his studies at the Sorbonne and at the Independent School of Political and Social Studies. He completed his first degree in Dijon, where he received his doctorate of law in 1908. Beneš then taught for three years at a business college, and after his 1912 habilitation in philosophy, Beneš became a lecturer of sociology at Charles University. He was also involved in scouting. [9]

In 1907, Beneš published over 200 articles in the Czech social democratic newspaper Právo Lidu (cs) containing his impressions of life in Western Europe. [10] Beneš wrote he found Germany to be repulsive and an "empire of force and power" after visiting Berlin. In London, he wrote that "the situation here is terrible and so is life". [10] During World War II, when Beneš was living in exile in London, the German Propaganda Ministry gleefully republished his articles from 1907 expressing mostly negative sentiments about life in Britain. [10] However, Beneš loved Paris, the "city of light". He wrote that he found it to be "almost miraculously. a magnificent synthesis of modern civilization, of which France is the bearer". [10] For the rest of his life, Beneš was a passionate Francophile and he always stated that Paris was his favorite city. [11]

During World War I, Beneš was one of the leading organizers of an independent Czechoslovakia from abroad. He organized a pro-independence and anti-Austrian secret resistance movement, Maffia. In September 1915, he went into exile in Paris, where he made intricate diplomatic efforts to gain recognition from France and the United Kingdom for Czechoslovak independence. From 1916 to 1918, he was a Secretary of the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris and Minister of the Interior and of Foreign Affairs in the Provisional Czechoslovak government.

In May 1917, Beneš, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Milan Rastislav Štefánik were reported to be organizing a "Czechoslovak Legion" to fight for the Western Allies in France and Italy, recruited from among Czechs and Slovaks who were able to get to the front and also from the large emigrant populations in the United States, which was said to number more than 1,500,000. [12] The force grew into one of tens of thousands and took part in several battles, including the Battles of Zborov and Bakhmach in Russia. [13]

From 1918 to 1935, Beneš was the first and longest-serving Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia. On 31 October 1918, Karel Kramář reported from Geneva to Prague: "If you saw our Dr. Beneš and his mastery of global questions. you would take off your hat and say it was truly marvelous!" [14] His international stature was such that he held the post through 10 successive governments, one of which he headed himself from 1921 to 1922. In 1919, his decision to pull demoralized Czechoslovak Legions out of the Russian Civil War was denounced by Kramář as a betrayal. [15] He represented Czechoslovakia at the 1919 peace conference in Paris, which led to the Versailles Treaty.

A committed Czechoslovakist, Beneš did not consider Czechs and Slovaks to be separate ethnicities. He served in the National Assembly from 1920 to 1925 and again from 1929 to 1935, representing the Czechoslovak National Social Party (called the Czechoslovak Social Party until 1925). He briefly returned to the academic world as a professor, in 1921. After Jan Černý's first stint as prime minister, Beneš formed a government (cs) for a little over a year from 1921 to 1922.

In the early 1920s, Beneš and his mentor President Masaryk viewed Kramář as the principal threat to Czechoslovak democracy, seeing him as a "reactionary" Czech chauvinist who was opposed to their plans for Czechoslovakia as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic state. [15] Masaryk and Beneš were openly doubtful of Kramář's commitment to "Western values" that they were committed to such as democracy, enlightenment, rationality and tolerance, seeing him as a romantic Pan-Slavist who looked towards the east rather than the west for ideas. [15]

Kramář very much resented the way in which Masaryk openly groomed Beneš as his successor, noting that Masaryk put articles into the Constitution that set 45 as the age limit for senators, but 35 as the age limit for the presidency, which conveniently made Beneš eligible for the presidency. [15] The charge of Czech chauvinism against Kramář had some substance as he openly proclaimed his belief that the Czechs should be the dominant people in Czechoslovakia, denounced Masaryk and Beneš for their belief that the Sudeten Germans should be equal to the Czechs, and made clear his opposition to having German as one of the official languages of Czechoslovakia, views that made him abhorrent to Beneš. [16]

In 1927 Beneš was initiated in freemasonry at the Ian Amos Komensky Lodge No. 1. [17]

Between 1923 and 1927, Beneš was a member of the League of Nations Council, serving as president of its committee from 1927 to 1928. He was a renowned and influential figure at international conferences, such as those at Genoa in 1922, Locarno in 1925, The Hague in 1930 and Lausanne in 1932.

When President Tomáš Masaryk retired in 1935, Beneš succeeded him. Under Masaryk, the Hrad ("the castle", as the Czechs called the presidency) had built up into a major extra-constitutional institution enjoying considerably more informal power than the plain language of the Constitution indicated. [18] The framers of the Constitution had intended to create a parliamentary system in which the Prime Minister would be the country's leading political figure. However, due to a complex system of proportional representation, no party even approached the 151 seats needed for a majority as mentioned above, there were ten cabinets during Masaryk's presidency.

The Czech historian Igor Lukeš (cs) wrote about the power of the Hrad under Beneš: "By the spring of 1938, the Czechoslovak parliament, the prime minister, and the cabinet had been pushed aside by Beneš. During the dramatic summer months he was – for better or worse – the sole decision-maker in the country". [18]

Sudeten Crisis Edit

Edvard Beneš opposed Nazi Germany's claim to the German-speaking Sudetenland in 1938. The crisis began on 24 April 1938 when Konrad Henlein at the party congress of the Sudeten German Party in Karlsbad (modern Karlovy Vary) announced the 8-point "Karlsbad programme" demanding autonomy for the Sudetenland. [19] Beneš rejected the Karlsbad programme, but in May 1938 offered the "Third Plan" which would have created 20 cantons in the Sudetenland with substantial autonomy, which in turn was rejected by Henlein. [20] Beneš was keen to go to war with Germany provided that one or more of the Great Powers fought alongside Czechoslovakia, but was unwilling to fight Germany alone. [21] Sergei Aleksandrovsky, the Soviet minister in Prague, reported to Moscow after talking to Beneš that he was hoping to fight a "war against the whole world" provided the Soviet Union was willing to come in. [21]

In London in May 1938, Beneš came under diplomatic pressure from the British government to accede to the Karlsbad programme, which he initially refused. The British viewed the Sudetenland crisis as a domestic Czechoslovak crisis with international ramifications whereas Beneš saw the crisis as a matter between Czechoslovakia vs. Germany.

In July 1938, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax offered the services of a British mediator Lord Runciman, to resolve the crisis, with the promise that Britain would support Czechoslovakia if Beneš was willing to accept the conclusions of Runciman's findings. [22] Seeing a chance to enlist British support, Beneš accepted the Runciman Mission. [22] The British historian A. J. P. Taylor wrote: "Beneš, whatever his other defects, was an incomparable negotiator and the talents which had been a match for Lloyd George in 1919, soon took Runciman's measure in 1938. Instead, Runciman found that he was being maneuvered into a position where he had to endorse the Czech offers as reasonable, and to condemn the obstinacy of the Sudetens, not of Beneš. An appalling consequence [for Britain] loomed ever nearer if Beneš did all that Runciman asked of him, and more, Great Britain would be saddled with the moral obligation to support Czechoslovakia in the ensuring crisis. To avert this consequence, Runciman, far from urging Beneš on, had to preach delay. Beneš did not allow him to escape". [23]

On 4 September 1938, Beneš presented the "Fourth Plan", which, had it happened, would have come very close to turning Czechoslovakia into a federation, and would have given the Sudetenland widespread autonomy. Henlein rejected the Fourth Plan and instead launched a revolt in the Sudetenland, which soon failed. On 12 September 1938, in his keynote speech at the Nuremberg party rally, Adolf Hitler demanded the Sudetenland join Germany. On 30 September 1938, Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom signed the Munich Agreement, which allowed for the annexation and military occupation of the Sudetenland by Germany. Czechoslovakia was not consulted. Beneš agreed, despite opposition from within his country, after France and the United Kingdom warned that they would remain neutral, despite their previous promises, in a war between Germany and Czechoslovakia. [24] Beneš was forced to resign on 5 October 1938, under German pressure, [24] and was replaced by Emil Hácha.

Despite many Czechs viewing the Munich Agreement as part of a "Western betrayal", some scholars such as George F. Kennan and John Holroyd-Doveton suggest that the Agreement may have been a surprisingly positive outcome for Czechoslovakia. They argue that, if war had broken out in 1938, Czechoslovakia would have faced a similar destruction as Poland did the following year. As Poland was attacked in 1939, France failed its own invasion efforts in Germany. One can only assume France's attack would have been equally futile in 1938, had a Czech-German war been sparked. [25] George F. Kennan wrote in his memoirs:

"The benefit of the Munich Agreement was that it has preserved for the exacting task of the future a magnificent younger generation disciplined, industrious and physically fit that would have undoubtedly been sacrificed if the solution had been the romantic one of hopeless resistance rather than the humiliating but true heroic one of realism". [26]

It is commonly believed [ by whom? ] that the Czechoslovak border fortifications made the Czechoslovak-German boundary the best-fortified in Europe. Despite this belief, Germany's occupation of Austria earlier that year meant Czechoslovakia could equally have been attacked from the south. If Czechoslovakia had fought, it might have assisted Britain, France and the Soviet Union, but it may not have benefitted Czechoslovakia itself. There were various predictions of how long it would take the German army to defeat the Czechs, but seldom did a prediction contemplate a Czech victory. [27] Speculating the length of a hypothesised Czech-German war, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk predicted two months, Winston Churchill wagered three months and according to Lavrentiy Beria's son, his father envisioned at least six months. Six months of modern warfare in a small country like Czechoslovakia would likely have left her devastated. [28] [29] [30]

Regardless, in March 1939, German troops marched into what remained of Czechoslovakia. They declared the nation a protectorate of Nazi Germany and detached Slovakia as a puppet state, thereby completing the German occupation of Czechoslovakia which would last until 1945.

On 22 October 1938, Beneš went into exile in Putney, London. Czechoslovakia's intelligence service headed by František Moravec was still loyal to Beneš, which gave him a valuable bargaining chip in his dealings with the British as Paul Thümmel, a highly ranking officer of the Abwehr, Germany's military intelligence, was still selling information to Moravec's group. [31] In July 1939, Beneš realising that "information is power", started to share with the British some of the intelligence provided by "Agent A-54" as Thümmel was code-named. [31] As the British lacked any spies in Germany comparable to Agent A-54, the British were intensely interested in the intelligence provided by him, which Beneš used to bargain with in dealings with the British. [31]

By July 1939, the Danzig crisis had pushed Britain to the brink of war with Germany, and British decision-makers were keenly interested in any high-level intelligence about Germany. [31] In the summer of 1939, Beneš hoped that the Danzig crisis would end in war, seeing a war with Germany as his only hope of restoring Czechoslovakia. [31] At the same time, Beneš started to have regular lunches with Winston Churchill, at the time only a backbench Conservative MP, and Harold Nicolson, a backbencher National Labour MP who was likewise opposed to the Munich Agreement. [31] Besides his new British friends like Churchill and Nicolson, Beneš also resumed contact with old British friends from World War I such as the historian Robert Seton-Watson and the journalist Henry Wickham Steed, who wrote articles urging the restoration of Czechoslovakia to its pre-Munich Agreement borders. [31]

On 23 August 1939, Beneš met Ivan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador to the Court of St. James, to ask for Soviet support. According to Maisky's diary, Beneš told him that he wanted a common frontier between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. [32] Furthermore, Maisky's diary had Beneš saying that if Czechoslovakia were restored, he would cede Ruthenia, whose people Beneš noted were mostly Ukrainian, to the Soviet Union to bring about a common frontier. [32]

On the same day, Beneš learned of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. When he confronted Maisky, he was told that war would break out "in two weeks' time", causing Beneš to write: "My overall impression is that the Soviets want war, they have prepared for it conscientiously and they maintain that the war will take place – and that they have reserved some freedom of action for themselves. [The pact was] a rather rough tactic to drive Hitler into war. the Soviets are convinced that the time has come for a final struggle between capitalism, fascism and Nazism and that there will be a world revolution, which they will trigger at an opportune moment when others are exhausted by war ". [33] Maisky would be proven right on 1 September, when Germany invaded Poland, and the British and French both declared war on Germany two days later.

Organizing the government-in-exile Edit

In October 1939, Beneš organised the Czechoslovak National Liberation Committee, which immediately declared itself the Provisional Government of Czechoslovakia. Britain and France withheld full recognition, though unofficial contacts were permitted. [34] A major issue in wartime Anglo-Czechoslovak relations was the Munich Agreement, which the British still stood by, and which Beneš wanted the British to abrogate. [35] The issue was important because as long the British continued to view the Munich Agreement as being in effect, they recognized the Sudetenland as part of Germany, a British war aim that Beneš naturally objected to. A problem for Beneš during the Phoney War in the winter of 1939–40 was the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attached much hope to the idea that anti-Nazi conservatives in Germany would persuade the Wehrmacht to overthrow Hitler, and as the anti-Nazi conservatives were adamant that the Sudetenland remain part of Germany, Chamberlain made it clear that Britain was not at war to undo the Munich Agreement. [36]

On 22 February 1940 during a secret meeting in Switzerland between Ulrich von Hassell representing the German conservatives and James Lonsdale-Bryans representing Great Britain, the former told the latter there was no possibility of a post-Nazi Germany ever agreeing to return the Sudetenland. [37] In 1939 and 1940, Chamberlain repeatedly made public statements that Britain was willing to make an "honorable peace" with a post-Nazi Germany, which meant the Sudetenland would remain within the Reich. [36] Beneš with his insistence on restoring Czechoslovakia to its pre-Munich borders was seen by Chamberlain as an obstacle that was standing in the way of his hope that the Wehrmacht would depose Hitler.

After the Dunkirk evacuation, Britain was faced with a German invasion while the British Army had lost most of its equipment, which it had to abandon at Dunkirk. At the same time, 500 Czechoslovak airmen had arrived in Britain together with half of a division, which Beneš called his "last and most impressive argument" for diplomatic recognition. [34] On 21 July 1940, the United Kingdom recognised the National Liberation Committee as being the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, with Jan Šrámek as prime minister and Beneš as president. [34] In reclaiming the presidency, Beneš took the line that his 1938 resignation had been under duress and so was void.

The intelligence provided by Agent A-54 was greatly valued by MI6, the British intelligence service, and Beneš used it to improve his bargaining position, telling the British he would share more intelligence from Agent A-54 in return for concessions to his government-in-exile. [38] As part of his efforts to improve his bargaining position, Beneš often exaggerated to the British the efficiency of Moravec's group, the Czechoslovak army in exile and the underground UVOD resistance group. [38] Besides Agent A-54, the Prime Minister of the Czech government under the Protectorate, General Alois Eliáš, was in contact with Moravec's agents. Beneš's efforts paid off as he was invited to lunch, first at 10 Downing Street by Churchill (who was now Prime Minister), and then by King George VI at Buckingham Palace. [38]

In September 1940, MI6 set up a communications center in Surrey for Czechoslovak intelligence and in October 1940 a Victorian mansion at Leamington Spa was given to the Czechoslovak brigade under General Miroslav. [38] At the same time, Moravec's group began to work with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to plan resistance in the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia, though the distance between Britain and the Protectorate made it difficult for the SOE to parachute in agents. [38]

In November 1940, in the wake of the London Blitz, Beneš, his wife, their nieces and his household staff moved to The Abbey at Aston Abbotts, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. The staff of his private office, including his secretary, Eduard Táborský (cs), and his chief of staff, Jaromír Smutný (cs), moved to the Old Manor House in the neighbouring village of Wingrave, and his military intelligence staff, headed by František Moravec, was stationed in the nearby village of Addington.

Operation Barbarossa begins Edit

Beneš's relations with the Polish government-in-exile headed by General Władysław Sikorski were difficult due to the Teschen dispute, as General Sikorski insisted on claiming the region for Poland, while Beneš argued that it should return to Czechoslovakia when the war was over. [39] However, Beneš felt a Polish-Czechoslovak alliance was needed to counter Germany in the post-war world, and came around to the idea of a Polish-Czechoslovak federation as the best way of squaring the circle caused by the Teschen dispute. [39] In November 1940, Beneš and Sikorski signed an agreement in principle calling for federation, though Beneš's insistence that the Slovaks were not a nation and Slovakia would not be a full member of the federation caused much tension between himself and Slovak members of the government-in-exile. [39]

However, after Operation Barbarossa brought the Soviet Union into the war in June 1941, Beneš started to lose interest in the project, though a detailed agreement for the proposed federation was worked out and signed in January 1942. [39] The Russophile Beneš always felt more comfortable with dealing with Russians rather than the Poles, whose behavior in September 1938 was a source of much resentment to Beneš. [39] The promise from the Narkomindel that the Soviet Union supported returning Teschen to Czechoslovakia negated the whole purpose of the proposed federation for Beneš. [39]

On 22 June 1941, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union. President Emil Hacha of the puppet government serving under the Protectorate praised Hitler in a statement for launching the "crusade against Bolshevism" and urged Czech workers to work even harder for a German victory, observing that much of the material used by the Wehrmacht was manufactured in the Protectorate. [40] Through Moravec, Beneš sent word to both General Eliáš and Hacha that they should resign rather than give comfort to the enemy, stating his belief that the Soviet Union would inevitably defeat Germany and thus would have a decisive role in the affairs of Eastern Europe after the war. [40] Moreover, Beneš charged that if the most of the resistance work in the Protectorate were done by the Czech communists that would give them "a pretext to take over power on the basis of the justified reproach that we helped Hitler". [40]

During the war Beneš told Ehrenburg, the Soviet writer: “The only salvation lies in a close alliance with your country. The Czechs may have different political opinions, but on one point we can be sure. The Soviet Union will not only liberate us from the Germans. It will also allow us to live without constant fear of the future.” [41] [42]

On 18 July 1941, the Soviet Union and UK [43] recognized Beneš's government-in-exile, promised non-interference in the internal affairs of Czechoslovakia, allowed the government-in-exile to raise an army to fight alongside the Red Army on the Eastern Front and recognized the borders of Czechoslovakia as those before the Munich Agreement. [40] The last was the most important to Beneš, as the British government still maintained that the Munich Agreement was in effect and regarded the Sudetenland as part of Germany. [40] Even the United States (which was neutral) very tentatively regarded the government-in-exile as only a "provisional" government and rather vaguely stated the borders of Czechoslovakia were to be determined after the war, implying the Sudetenland might remain part of Germany. [40]

Working with the Czech resistance Edit

During the summer and fall of 1941, Beneš came under increasing pressure from the Allies to have the Czechs play a greater role in resistance work. [44] The Narkomindel informed Beneš that the Soviets were disappointed that there was so little sabotage going on in the factories of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which were such an important source of arms and other material for the Wehrmacht. [44] Likewise, the British started to demand that the Czechs do more resistance work. [44] Moravec after meeting the MI6's Director, Stewart Menzies, told Beneš that the British viewpoint was that when the United Kingdom was fighting for its life that "placing violets at the grave of the unknown soldier was simply not good enough". [44]

Making matters worse for Beneš was in late September 1941 that Reinhard Heydrich, who effectively taken over the Protectorate, launched a major crackdown on resistance. [45] The Prime Minister, General Eliáš, was arrested on 27 September 1941 on Heydrich's orders martial law was proclaimed in the Protectorate thousands were arrested and executed including two prominent leaders of the UVOD resistance group, Josef Bílý (cs) and Hugo Vojta (cs) who were arrested and shot without trial. [45]

On 5 October 1941, the lines of communication between the UVOD group and London were severed when the Gestapo, during the course of its raids, seized various radios and the codes for communicating with London. [45] At the same time, the Gestapo also learned of the existence of Agent A-54 and after an investigation arrested Thümmel, depriving Beneš of one of his most valuable bargaining chips. [45] Faced with this situation when the Allies were demanding more Czech resistance at the same time that Heydrich had launching a crackdown that was weakening the resistance, Beneš decided in October 1941 on a spectacular act of resistance that would prove to the world that the Czechs were still resisting. [46]

In 1941, Beneš and František Moravec planned Operation Anthropoid to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, [47] a high-ranking German official who was responsible for suppressing Czech culture, and for deporting and executing members of the Czech resistance. Beneš felt his dealings with the Allies, especially his campaign to persuade the British to nullify the Munich Agreement, was being weakened by the lack of any visible resistance in the Protectorate. [48] Beneš decided that assassinating Heydrich was the best way to improve his bargaining position, and it was largely he who pressed for Operation Anthropoid. [49]

Upon learning of the nature of the mission, resistance leaders begged the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to call off the attack, saying that "An attempt against Heydrich's life. would be of no use to the Allies and its consequences for our people would be immeasurable." [50] Beneš personally broadcast a message insisting that the attack go forwards, [50] although he denied any involvement after the war. [51] Historian Vojtěch Mastný argues that he "clung to the scheme as the last resort to dramatize Czech resistance." [51] The 1942 assassination resulted in brutal German reprisals such as the execution of thousands of Czechs and the eradication of two villages: Lidice and Ležáky.

Britain rejects the Munich Agreement Edit

In 1942, Beneš finally persuaded the Foreign Office to issue a statement saying Britain had revoked the Munich Agreement and supported the return of the Sudetenland to Czechoslovakia. [35] Beneš saw the statement by the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, to the House of Commons on 5 August 1942 revoking the Munich Agreement as a diplomatic triumph for himself. [34] Beneš had been greatly embittered by the behavior of the ethnic Germans of the Sudetenland in 1938, which he viewed as treasonous, and during his exile in London had decided that when Czechoslovakia was reestablished, he was going to expel all of the Sudeten Germans into Germany. [35] During his exile, Beneš had come to obsessively brood over the behavior of the Sudetenlanders and had reached the conclusion that they were all collectively guilty of treason. [39] In 1942, he stated the compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1922–23 was his model for solving the problem of the Sudetenland, though unlike the Greek-Turkish population exchange, he proposed financial compensation to be paid to the Sudeten Germans expelled into Germany. [52]

Although not a Communist, Beneš was also on friendly terms with Joseph Stalin. Believing that Czechoslovakia had more to gain from an alliance with the Soviet Union than one with Poland, he torpedoed plans for a Polish–Czechoslovak confederation and in 1943, he signed an entente with the Soviets. [53] [54] [55] During his visit to Moscow to sign the alliance, Beneš complained about the "feudal" systems existing in Poland and Hungary, charging that unlike Czechoslovakia, which after World War I had broken up the estates owned mostly by ethnic Germans and Hungarians, the majority of the land in Poland and Hungary was still owned by the nobility, which he claimed was the source of political and economic backwardness in both nations. [56] Speaking of Hungary, Beneš told Stalin:

"The British and Americans are beginning to understand it. But they are afraid that the revolution in Hungary might be like the one after the last war-Bela Kun and all that. That's why the occupation of Hungary is so important. I think that it is important also that you, not only the British and the Americans share in it. I can imagine what would happen if the British alone were there. The Hungarian aristocrats take them out for weekends and for hunting, tell them stories about how their democracy is the oldest in Europe about their parliament. All that is lies, but the British would be impressed". [56]

Beneš believed in the ideal of "convergence" between the Soviet Union and the western nations, arguing that based on what he was seeing in wartime Britain that the western nations would become more socialist after the war while at same time that wartime liberalising reforms in the Soviet Union meant the Soviet system would be more "western" after the war. [39] Beneš hoped and believed that the wartime alliance of the "Big Three" of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States would continue after the war, with the "Big Three" co-operating in an international system that would hold Germany in check. [39]

Though Beneš did not attend the Tehran Conference himself, the news of the mood of harmony that prevailed among the American, Soviet and British delegations at Tehran certainly gave him hope that the Big Three alliance would continue after the war. [57] Beneš saw the role of Czechoslovakia and his own role as being that of a mediator between the Big Three. [58] The fact that his old friend Churchill took him into his confidence concerning the post-war borders of Poland boosted Beneš's own perception of himself as an important diplomat, settling the disputes of Eastern Europe. [59] After talking to Beneš for four hours on 4 January 1944 about Poland's post-war borders, Churchill cabled to American President Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Beneš may be most useful in trying to make the Poles see reason and in reconciling them to the Russians, whose confidence he has long possessed". [59]

In April 1945, Beneš flew from London to Košice in eastern Slovakia, which had been taken by the Red Army and which became the temporary capital of Czechoslovakia. [60] Upon arriving, Beneš announced a coalition government had been formed called the National Front, with the Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald as prime minister. [61] Besides Gottwald, communists were named as ministers of defence, the interior, education, information, and agriculture. [61] The most important non-Communist minister was the foreign minister, Jan Masaryk, the long-term Czechoslovak minister in London. [61] Besides the Communists, the other parties in the National Front government were the Social Democratic Party, Beneš own National Social Party (no relation to Hitler's National Socialists), the People's Party and the Slovak Democratic Party. [61]

Beneš also announced the Košice programme, which declared that Czechoslovakia was now to be a state of Czechs and Slovaks with the German minority in the Sudetenland and the Hungarian minority in Slovakia to be expelled there was to be a degree of decentralization with the Slovaks to have their own National Council, but no federation capitalism was to continue, but the "commanding heights" of the economy were to be controlled by the state and finally Czechoslovakia was to pursue a pro-Soviet foreign policy. [62]

Role in the Prague uprising Edit

During the Prague uprising, which started on 5 May 1945, the city was surrounded by Wehrmacht and SS units, the latter in a vengeful mood. The Czech resistance appealed to the First Division of the German-sponsored Russian Liberation Army commanded by General Sergei Bunyachenko to switch sides, promising them that they be granted asylum in Czechoslovakia and would not be repatriated to the Soviet Union, where they faced execution for treason for fighting for Germany. [63] As the Czech resistance lacked heavy arms such as tanks and artillery, the 1st Division was badly needed to help hold Prague.

General Buynachenko and his 1st Division defected to the Allied side, where it played a key role in holding off the German forces intent on retaking Prague and prevented the SS from massacring the people of Prague. [63] However, when General Buyachenko learned on 7 May that he and his men would not be offered asylum after all, the 1st Division abandoned Prague in order to surrender to the American 3rd Army. Despite the promise that the men of 1st Division would be granted asylum, Beneš instead repatriated the 1st Division, and the rest of the ROA men in Czechoslovakia who were captured by his government, to the Soviet Union. [63]

Return to Prague Edit

After the Prague uprising at the end of World War II, Beneš returned home and resumed his former position as President. Article 58.5 of the Constitution said, "The former president shall stay in his or her function till the new president shall be elected". He was unanimously confirmed in office by the Interim National Assembly on 28 October 1945. In December 1945, all of the Red Army forces left Czechoslovakia. [60] On 19 June 1946, Beneš was formally elected to his second term as President. [64]

Beneš presided over a coalition government, the National Front, from 1946 headed by Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald as prime minister. In the elections of May 1946, the Communists won 38% of the vote with the Czech National Socialists winning 18%, the People's Party 16%, the Slovak Democrats 14% and the Social Democrats 13%. [61] Until the summer of 1947, Czechoslovakia had what the British historian Richard J. Crampton called "a period of relative tranquility" with democracy reestablished, and institutions such as the media, opposition parties, the churches, the Sokols, and the Legionnaire veteran associations all existing outside of state control. [61]

In July 1947, both Beneš and Gottwald had decided to accept Marshall Plan aid, only for the Kremlin to inform Gottwald to do an U-turn on the question of accepting the Marshall Plan. [65] When Beneš visited Moscow, the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov quite brutally informed him that the Kremlin regarded accepting Marshall Plan aid as a violation of the 1943 alliance, causing Beneš on his return to Prague to speak of a "second Munich", saying it was not acceptable for the Soviet Union to veto decisions made by Czechoslovakia. [65] The volte-face on the issue of the Marshall Plan did much damage to the image of the Czechoslovak Communists, and public opinion started to turn against them. [66] A public opinion poll showed that only 25% of the voters planned to vote Communist after the rejection of the Marshall Plan. [66]

In September 1947, the Communist-dominated police in Slovakia announced the discovery of an alleged separatist plot led by the followers of Father Tiso who were allegedly infiltrating the Slovak Democrats, but by November 1947, the supposed plot was revealed as a canard, with the media exposing the evidence for it as being manufactured by the police. [66] The scandal in Slovakia led to demands by the other parties of the National Front that the police be depoliticised. [66] During this time, Beneš had become increasingly disillusioned with the Communists, telling his ambassador in Belgrade to report to him personally as there were so many Communist agents both in the Czechoslovak embassy in Belgrade and in his own office that there it was the only way of ensuring secrecy. [67]

Expulsion of the Sudeten Germans Edit

Beneš opposed the presence of Germans in the liberated republic [ citation needed ] . Believing that vigilante justice would be less divisive than trials, upon his arrival in Prague on May 10, he called for the "liquidation of Germans and Hungarians" [ citation needed ] in the "interest of a united national state of Czechs and Slovaks." [68] As part of the Košice programme, Germans in the Sudetenland and Hungarians in Slovakia were to be expelled. [ citation needed ]

The Beneš decrees (officially called "Decrees of the President of the Republic"), among other things, expropriated the property of citizens of German and Hungarian ethnicity and facilitated Article 12 of the Potsdam Agreement by laying down a national legal framework for the loss of citizenship [ citation needed ] and the expropriation of about three million Germans and Hungarians. However, Beneš's plans for expelling the Hungarian minority from Slovakia caused tensions with Hungary, whose coalition government was likewise leaning towards the Soviet Union, and ultimately objections from Moscow ended the expulsion of the Hungarians shortly after it had begun. [60] In contrast, the Soviets had no objections to the expulsions of the Sudeten Germans, and the Czechoslovak authorities continued to expel the Sudeten Germans pursuant to the Potsdam Agreement until only a negligible number of Germans remained in the Sudetenland. [60]

On 15 March 1946, SS Obergruppenführer Karl Hermann Frank went on trial in Prague for war crimes. [69] Beneš ensured that Frank's trial received maximum publicity [ citation needed ] , being broadcast live on state radio, and statements from Frank's interrogations being leaked to the press. [69] On the stand, Frank remained a defiant Nazi, snarling insults at his Czech prosecutors, saying the Czechs were still Untermenschen ("sub-humans") as far he was concerned, and only expressing regret that he did not kill more Czechs when he had the chance. After Frank's conviction, he was publicly hanged before thousands of cheering people outside of Pankrác Prison on 22 May 1946. [69] As Frank was a Sudeten German, the political purpose of his trial was to symbolize to the world what Beneš called the "collective criminality" of the Sudeten Germans, [ citation needed ] which thus justified their expulsions. [69] The historian Mary Heimann wrote that though Frank was indeed guilty of war crimes and treason, his trial was used for a political purpose, [ citation needed ] namely to illustrate the collective criminality of the Sudeten Germans to the world. [69]

Communist coup of 1948 Edit

On 12 February 1948, the non-Communist ministers threatened to resign unless the "packing" of the police by the Communist interior minister, Václav Nosek (cs), stopped at once. [66] The Communists set up "action committees", whom Nosek ordered the civil servants to take their orders from. [67] Nosek also illegally had arms issued to the action committees. [67] On 20 February, the Communists formed the "people's militia" of 15,000. [67] On 21 February 1948, 12 non-Communist ministers resigned to protest Gottwald's refusal to stop the packing of the police with Communists despite the majority of the Cabinet having ordered it to end. [66] The non-Communists believed that Beneš would side with them to allow them to stay in office as a caretaker government until new elections.

Beneš initially refused to accept their resignations and insisted that no government could be formed without the non-Communist parties. However, Gottwald had by this time dropped all pretense of working within the system. He threatened a general strike unless Beneš appointed a Communist-dominated government. The Communists also occupied the offices of the non-Communists who had resigned. Faced with the crisis, Beneš hesitated and sought more time. [67]

On 22 February, a large parade by the Communist action committees took place in Prague, and ended with the people's militia attacking the offices of opposition parties and the Sokols. [67] Amid fears that civil war was imminent and rumours that the Red Army would sweep in to back Gottwald, Beneš gave way. On 25 February, he accepted the resignations of the non-Communist ministers and appointed a new Communist-dominated government in accordance with Gottwald's specifications. [67] The non-Communist parties were still nominally represented, so the government was still technically a coalition. However, with the exception of Masaryk, the non-Communist ministers were fellow travelers. In effect, Beneš had given legal sanction to a Communist coup.

During the crisis, Beneš failed to rally support as he could have done from the Sokols, the Legionnaire veterans' associations, the churches and many of the university students. [67] Crampton wrote: "In February 1948, Beneš still commanded enormous respect and authority", and if he used his moral prestige, he could have rallied public opinion against the Communists. [70] However, Beneš still saw Germany as the main danger to Czechoslovakia and ultimately believed that Czechoslovakia needed the alliance with the Soviet Union more than the other way around, and as such Prague could never afford a lasting rift with Moscow. [67] Finally, Beneš was a deeply ill man in February 1948, suffering from high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis and spinal tuberculosis, and his poor health contributed to the lack of fight in him. [70]

Shortly afterward, elections were held in which voters were presented with a single list from the National Front, now a Communist-dominated organization. On 12 March 1948, professor Václav Černý visited Beneš at his villa at Sezimovo Usti, where the president accused Stalin of using him. According to Černý, Beneš used such violent and vulgar language about Stalin that he did not bother writing down the president's commentary, believing it was unpublishable. [71]

The Constituent National Assembly, now a subservient tool of the Communists, approved a new constitution on 9 May. Although it was not a completely Communist document, it was close enough to the Soviet Constitution that Beneš refused to sign it. [72] He resigned as President on 7 June 1948, and Gottwald took over most presidential functions until being elected his successor a week later. [70]

On 14 August 1948, the Soviet and Czechoslovak media launched a campaign of vilification against Beneš, accusing him of being an enemy of the Soviet Union and claimed that he refused a Soviet offer of unilateral military assistance in September 1938 because he wanted the Munich Agreement imposed on Czechoslovakia. [73] On his deathbed, Beneš became furious about the claim the Soviet Union had offered to help unilaterally in 1938 with the former presidential chancellor Jaromír Smutný (cs) writing: "He would like to know when, by whom and to whom was the offer made". [73] During the Communist era in Czechoslovakia, Beneš was vilified as a traitor who refused an alleged offer by Stalin to assist Czechoslovakia unilaterally in 1938 because he supposedly wanted the Munich Agreement to be imposed on his country. [74]

Already in poor health after suffering two strokes in 1947, Beneš was left completely broken after seeing the undoing of his life's work. He died of natural causes at his villa in Sezimovo Ústí on 3 September 1948, just seven months after the end of the liberal democratic government he helped create. [3] He is interred in the garden of his villa, and his bust is part of the gravestone. His wife Hana, who lived until 2 December 1974, is interred next to him.

Much controversy remains on his character and policy. [75] According to SVR, Beneš had closely co-operated with the Soviet intelligence before the war especially with Soviet agent Pyotr Zubov. [76]

Beneš's friend, the British historian A. J. P. Taylor, wrote in 1945: "Beck, Stojadinović, Antonescu, and Bonnet despised Beneš's integrity and prided themselves on their cunning but their countries, too, fell before the German aggressor, and every step they took has made the resurrection of their countries more difficult. In contrast, the foreign policy of Dr. Beneš during the present war has won Czechoslovakia a secure future". [77] The leaders to whom Taylor referred were Colonel Jozef Beck, the Polish foreign minister 1932–39 and a leading figure in the Sanation military dictatorship, who at times was willing to flirt with the Third Reich to achieve his goals Milan Stojadinović, who served as the prime minister of Yugoslavia 1935–39 and who followed a pro-German foreign policy General Ion Antonescu, the Conducător (dictator) of Romania 1940–44 and Georges Bonnet, the French foreign minister 1938–39, who favored abandoning Eastern Europe to Nazi Germany. Taylor's assessment that Beneš was a man of integrity (unlike Bonnet, Antonescu, Beck and Stojadinović) and that he was leading Czechoslovakia in the right direction was widely shared in 1945. [77]

In 1933, H. G. Wells wrote The Shape of Things to Come, a prediction of World War II. In Wells' depiction, the war starts in 1940 and drags on until 1950, and Czechoslovakia avoids being occupied by Germany, with Beneš remaining its president throughout the war. Wells assigns to Beneš the role of initiating a ceasefire, and the book, supposedly written in the 22nd century, remarks, "The Beneš Suspension of Hostilities remains in force to this day".

In Prague Counterpoint, the second volume of Bodie and Brock Thoene's Zion Covenant Series, Hitler plots to kill Beneš by an assassin, but the assassin is tackled by an American journalist and captured by Beneš's bodyguards. Hitler later uses the execution of the Sudeten assassin to proclaim him a martyr, as a continuing fuse to the Sudeten Crisis.

Edvard Benes

Edvard Benes was born as the youngest son into a peasant family living in the district of Rakovnik. After his studies at Prague Vinohrady Gymnasium in the years 1896-1904 he enrolled to the Faculty of Philosophy in Prague. After studying briefly he left for Paris, where he studied at the Sorbonne and at the Independent School of Political and Social Studies. Except for his short stay in London he stayed in France until 1907 when he moved to Berlin. By receiving his Doctorate of Laws he completed his university studies firstly in Dijon (1908) by receiving Doctorate of Laws, and one year later by passing rigorous exams in Prague. He taught for three years at the Prague Academy of Commerce, and later on he came to lecture sociology at Charles University as private associate professor.

The outbreak of the World War I provoked Benes into organising an internal resistance movement called "Maffia". In particular he was responsible for channels of communication between Prague and future President Masaryk, who was exiled in Switzerland at the time. In September 1915 Benes left for abroad and from that time on his destiny was closely tied to personalities of T.G. Masaryk a M.R. Stefanik. Benes then lived in Paris where he also organized and managed individual sections of foreign emigration as well as contributed to promotion of Czechoslovak political programme. He reorganised the courier service, which maintained the covert links between him and "Maffia" in Czech lands. Aside from diplomatic efforts to gain political prestige in the eyes of foreign resistance movements he was giving a cycle of lectures at the Sorbonne in Paris on the subject of Slavicism, and wrote a series of articles for French and Czech foreign newspapers. He was instrumental in establishing the Czechoslovak National Council (1916), where he was bestowed with the function of the General Secretary. Together with M.R. Stefanik, he negotiated with the representatives of consensual powers in order to establish independent Czechoslovak military units. Subsequently, after obtaining consent as well as support the first legions were created in France (December 1917), Russia (summer 1918) and in Italy (April 1918). The outstanding result of Benes' diplomatic efforts led to the recognition of the Czechoslovak National Council as the representative of the new Czechoslovak State by France (June 1918), England (August 1918) and Italy (October 1918). This also enabled representatives of the Czechoslovak National Council to be admitted to the collective talks of the states of the Treaty of Versailles.

On October 28, 1918 Benes acting as the representative of the foreign resistance negotiated with domestic politicians in Geneva on the future of the newly independent Czechoslovak state, and upon reaching an agreement Benes became the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of the newly formed Czechoslovakia. However, he did not return home until September 1919, for already in November 1918 he had to go to Paris in order to secure the previously non-existent southern Slovak border, and to extricate Slovakia from Hungary, as well as to procure the recognition of the historical borders of the Czech State. At that time, Czechoslovakia emerged in a new state form never existing before, on the basis of Woodrow Wilson's principle of nations' rights for self-determination, which was, however, acknowledged only to the purposefully defined Czechoslovak nation in the new state. This concept, accepted to this date by most of the Czech nationals as natural and just, Benes vindicated in Peace Convents of 1919 and 1920, and as a creator of the Czechoslovak foreign politics he endeavoured to secure it by international pacts.

Edvard Benes was present at the inception of the League of Nations, and as its deputy chairman (1920), member of the Board (in 1923-27) and member of the Security Council, and its chairman (1935) he supported the principle of collective security. In 1920-22, Benes founded the Little Alliance with Yugoslavia and Romania, and in 1924, he negotiated an alliance treaty with the post-war European power, the France. He was a renowned person at important international conferences (e.g. in Genoa 1922, Locarno 1925, the Hague 1930, and Lausanne 1932) and had profound knowledge and understanding of international politics and relations. Although his primary domain was foreign affairs, he also played an important role in internal matters.

From the inception of the State, Edvard Benes was Minister of Foreign Affairs, and in the years 1919 to 1926 and 1929 to 1935, he was en elected member of the National Assembly, including Prime Minister in the years 1921 to 1922. Following president T.G. Masaryk's abdication, Benes became President of the Czechoslovak Republic on December 18, 1935. As the vice chairman of the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party (Benes was its member in 1923 to 1935), he had a profound influence over its policies. He rejected Marxism, but adhered to socialist ideas, the "overall development towards agricultural and workers democratism as well as natural and unavoidable weakening of the municipal bourgeoisie influence" he considered as one of the important results of the World War I. His opinions disallowed him to fully understand totalitarian principle of the Bolshevism, although he disagreed with it. In his endeavour to firmly anchor the security of the State, he tried to abolish the international isolation of the U.S.S.R. and to bring it into the League of Nations. When this was successfully accomplished, he closed an Alliance Treaty with the U.S.S.R. (in 1935). Shortly after that Munich treaty took place in 1938.

It will remain the eternal theme of the Czech history, whether it would be back then better to fight in international isolation than the moral marasmus after capitulation. It is certain that Slovaks longed for autonomy, Hungarians and Germans for alliance with their nations, and Czechs did not compel war from their political representatives including Benes. He abdicated on October 5, 1938, and went to exile. After war occupation of the Czech Lands and establishment of the Slovak State in March 1939 Benes proclaimed Munich treaty as invalid and held the theory of legal continuity of the Czechoslovakia. During the World War II Benes reached acknowledgement of the Czechoslovak exile government by all allied countries.

The Munich treaty meant trauma to Benes the same as to his Czech fellow citizens, and he was literally possessed to rectify it. Already after the events in Munich Benes occupied his mind with the problem of Germans in Czech Lands, and with future foreign-politics orientation, and for his conclusions he was able to win not only politicians of his generation - for example J. Sramek or J. Stransky - but also younger politics: H. Ripka, P. Drtina and others. Benes came to a conclusion, supported from his homeland, that a war is an apt historical moment to solve problems of the State by expulsion of Germans. Far before the Postdam Conference he communicated that end of the war"in our country must mean a great people's vengeance and a really bloody and unmerciful end for Germans" (February 1944).

During the war Benes came to understanding of how the powers will be distributed in post-war Central Europe, which led him to sign treaty with the Soviet Union in December 1943, in despite of initial disagreement of the Brits. He appealed to his countrymen to view his trip to Moscow "in the spirit of our entire national history of the past centuries". He did not event oppose to the significant changes in domestic policy. Besides the Czechoslovak Communist Party he was willing to allow socialist parties and the leftist bourgeoisie parties into the political system, and intended to implement very radical social and economic changes in the country. This was on the agenda of his visit to Moscow in December 1943, and was discussed with the foreign leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. It was also from Moscow that he would return to a liberated homeland.

After his triumphant arrival in Prague on May 16, 1945, Benes began taking steps to realising his intention to "unite the national revolution with the economic revolution" by his Decree. He was reinstated to his political office on October 28, 1945 and re-elected president on June 19, 1946. To much he stemmed from the thought that the Czechoslovakia may become "a bridge" between the Soviet Union and Western democratic countries, and thus help maintain stability in Europe. As a sociologist, he was convinced that politics are "practical sociology" and that his policies were based in science. However, further development has shown that the ideas behind his policies stemmed from wishes, not from science. Benes' faith in democratisation of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party was defeated by dramatic events in February 1948. Shortly thereafter, on June 7, 1948, Benes abdicated and died soon. (mch, ss)

Based upon biographies published by Libri: "Who was who in our history until 1918" and "Who was who in our history of the 20th century"
Quoted with the consent of the publisher.
The President's Office does not take responsibility for the contents of the text.

Who's Who - Eduard Benes

Emerging from a peasant background in Kozlany, Bohemia Eduard Benes (1884-1948) yet achieved a high standard of education, finally gaining a Sociology doctorate in Paris in 1908.

He was also an early agitator for Czech independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire, campaigning tirelessly if without notable success. The coming of war in July 1914 - which found Benes teaching at Prague University - ultimately assisted the Czech independence campaign, notwithstanding initial support for the war from many of the empire's disparate peoples.

It was during the war's early phase that he first met the exiled Czech nationalist leader Tomas Masaryk. Having attached himself to Masaryk as the latter's point of contact with fellow nationalists in Prague he was himself obliged to seek exile in France in 1915.

Once in Paris however he continued to campaign for Allied recognition of the merits of the establishment of an independent Czech state following the war, working closely with Masaryk in co-founding the Czechoslovak National Council (and becoming its inaugural General Secretary).

With the end of the war in November 1918 Benes became Masaryk's Foreign Minister, serving in this capacity until the latter's retirement in 1935, when he succeeded him as President.

Benes resigned in 1938 over Chamberlain's "betrayal" of Czechoslovakia via the Munich Agreement with Hitler, subsequently entering voluntary exile. In 1941 he established a provisional Czech government in London and in March 1945 travelled to Moscow to accompany the Soviet-backed Czechoslovak Corps that finally liberated his country.

Having returned as President in 1945 Benes remained head of the country until shortly before his death three years later, having resigned in the face of Klement Gottwald's increasingly pro-Communist government.

Saturday, 22 August, 2009 Michael Duffy

A "chit" was British slang for a piece of paper.

- Did you know?

Eduard Benes - History

The Coming of World War II:
Annexation & Absorption into Germany

The first solid indication of how the Nazis would treat occupied territories came in Czechoslovakia, and the auguries were both misleading and ominous. In 1938 Hitler's troops marched into the Czech Sudetenland it was largely populated by Germans, who welcomed the invaders warmly. In most of the region, a carnival atmosphere prevailed. To greet the occupying troops, whom the Czech forces had been ordered not to resist, huge Nazi flags — smuggled in earlier by NSDAP party agents — sprouted from buildings. Women wept or cheered at the sight of German soldiers, and garlanded them with flowers. One admirer was so carried away by excitement that a bouquet of roses she tossed to the Führer hit him in the face as he drove by into his new domains.

Behind these festive scenes were a few darker vignettes. A German mob in the town of Cesky Krumlov fired at the backs of retreating Czech soldiers in other towns shops and homes belonging to Czechs and Jews were vandalized and ransacked a railroad station clerk was shot dead when he refused to turn his cash over to Sudeten freebooters. In Prague, veterans of the legendary Czech legion were observed weeping. President Eduard Benes despairingly left the capital of truncated Czechoslovakia for a self-imposed exile in England.

Even more ominous for Europe's immediate future were Hitler's words as he spoke at the Czech town of Cheb, congratulating his new subjects on their love for the Fatherland. He grandiosely assured them that "over the greater German Reich is laid a German shield protecting it, and a German sword protecting it!" Careful listeners noted that territory in German control for barely a day had somehow become part of the Reich, and clearly saw signs of the future in the words "greater" and "sword." As for Hitler himself, convinced that the mere threat of force could make him master of Europe, he began boldly to plot his next move.

In March 1939, German troops entered Bohemia and Moravia, the last two provinces of Czechoslovakia, and Hitler informed the world that "Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist."

Efter andra världskriget [ redigera | redigera wikitext ]

Beneš tanke om Tjeckoslovakiens "brobyggarroll" lät sig inte genomföras på grund av de starka spänningarna mellan Sovjetunionen och västmakterna efter kriget. Bland annat blev landet tvunget att tacka nej till Marshallhjälp. Inrikespolitiskt försökte Beneš befästa det demokratiska styret i landet, även om han inte i så särskilt stor utsträckning ingrep i vardagspolitiken.

Beneš bidrog till de så kallade Benešdekreten, som bland annat slog fast att sudettyskarna, de tysktalande tjecker som fördrevs eller flydde i slutet av andra världskriget och åren därefter, inte hade rätt att återfå förlorad egendom eller flytta tillbaka till Tjeckoslovakien.

Han fick stora svårigheter med kommunisterna, som vid valen 1946 blev det största partiet i nationalförsamlingen och säkrade premiärministerämbetet och de viktigaste ledande ställningarna i statsadministrationen. Beneš hälsa sviktade efter kriget, och 1948 vek han sig för de kommunistiska kraven och ersatte regeringen med nya ministrar efter att de flesta icke-kommunistiska ministrarna hade avgått. Däremot vägrade han i maj att underteckna den nya "folkdemokratiska" författningen. Han avgick den 7 juni som president och drog sig tillbaka till sitt lantställe, där han dog samma år.


Edvard Beneš s-a născut într-o familie de țărani din orășelul Kožlany (în provincia Boemia a Austro-Ungariei) la 28 mai 1884. [8] Fratele său era politicianul cehoslovac Vojta Beneš. Nepotul său Bohuš Beneš, diplomat și fiu al fratelui său, Václav, a fost tatăl lui Emilie Benes Brzezinski și Václav E. Beneš, un matematician ceh-american. [9]

Beneš a petrecut o mare parte din tinerețea sa în districtul Vinohrady al Pragăi, unde a urmat școala secundară în perioada 1896-1904. În acest timp el a jucat fotbal la clubul Slavia Praga. [10] După ce a urmat studii la Facultatea de Filosofie de la Universitatea Carolină din Praga, el a plecat la Paris și și-a continuat studiile la Sorbona și la Școala de Studii Politice (École Libre des Sciences Politiques). A absolvit la Dijon, unde a obținut doctoratul în drept în 1908. Apoi, el a predat timp de trei ani la Academia de Comerț din Praga și după obținerea titlului de doctor habilitat în domeniul filosofiei, în 1912, a devenit profesor de sociologie la Universitatea Carolină. El a fost, de asemenea, implicat în activitatea de cercetășie. [11]

În timpul Primului Război Mondial, Beneš a fost unul dintre cei mai importanți organizatori ai mișcării politice din străinătate care milita pentru independența Cehoslovaciei. El a organizat o mișcare de rezistență secretă antiaustriacă și pro independența cehă numit „Maffia”. În septembrie 1915, a plecat în exil la Paris și a depus eforturi diplomatice complexe pentru a obține recunoașterea de către Franța și Marea Britanie a mișcării de independență a Cehoslovaciei. În perioada 1916-1918 a fost secretar al Consiliului Național Cehoslovac de la Paris și ministru de interne și de externe în guvernul cehoslovac provizoriu.

În mai 1918, Beneš, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk și Milan Rastislav Štefánik au depus eforturi pentru organizarea unei armate cehoslovace care să lupte de partea Aliaților Occidentali, au recrutat voluntari cehi și slovaci capabili să meargă pe front, precum și din rândul numeroasei populații emigrate în Statele Unite ale Americii, care ajunsese să fie mai mare de 1.500.000 de persoane. [12] Forța militară a crescut la câteva zeci de mii de militari și a luat parte la mai multe bătălii, inclusiv bătăliile de la Zborov și Bahmaci.

Din 1918 până în 1935, Beneš a fost primul și cel mai longeviv ministru de externe al Cehoslovaciei, ocupând această funcție în perioada 1918-1935 în zece guverne succesive, dintre care unul a fost condus de el însuși între 1921 și 1922. A fost membru al Parlamentului în perioada 1920-1925 și 1929-1935. El a reprezentat Cehoslovacia în discuțiile pentru elaborarea Tratatului de la Versailles. A revenit pentru scurt timp în lumea academică ca profesor în 1921.

Între 1923 și 1927 a fost un membru al Consiliului Ligii Națiunilor (îndeplinind și funcția de președinte al comisiei în perioada 1927-1928). El a fost o personalitate renumită și influentă la conferințele internaționale, precum cele de la Genova din 1922, de la Locarno în 1925, de la Haga în 1930 și de la Lausanne în 1932.

Beneš a fost membru al Partidului Social Național Cehoslovac (ce s-a numit până în 1925 Partidul Social Cehoslovac) și un militant puternic pentru unitatea cehoslovacă - el nu i-a considerat pe cehi și pe slovaci ca fiind etnii separate.

Când președintele Tomáš Masaryk s-a retras în 1935, Beneš a fost alegerea evidentă ca succesor al său.

El s-a opus pretențiilor Germaniei Naziste din 1938 pentru regiunea Sudetă, în care se vorbea limba germană. În octombrie 1938 Italia, Franța și Marea Britanie au semnat Acordul de la München, care a permis anexarea imediată și ocuparea militară a Sudeților de către Germania. Cehoslovacia nu a fost consultată cu privire la acest acord. Beneš a fost de acord doar după ce guvernele Franței și Marii Britanii l-au informat că, dacă nu ar fi făcut-o, nu s-a mai interesa de soarta Cehoslovaciei, adică ar renunța la alianța militară cu Cehoslovacia. [13]

Beneš a fost forțat să demisioneze pe 5 octombrie 1938 sub presiunea germană. [13] Emil Hácha a fost ales ca președinte. În martie 1939 guvernul lui Hácha a fost forțat să permită ocuparea de către germani a restului teritoriului ceh. (Slovacia își declarase independența sa până atunci.)

La 22 octombrie 1938 Beneš a plecat în exil la Putney, Londra. În octombrie 1939 el a organizat Comitetul Cehoslovac de Eliberare Națională. În noiembrie 1940, în urma Bombardării Londrei, Beneš, soția lui, nepoatele lor și personajul domestic s-au mutat la mănăstirea de la Aston Abbotts lângă Aylesbury, în Buckinghamshire. Personalul de la biroul său, inclusiv secretarul Edvard Táborský și șeful său de personal Jaromír Smutný, s-au mutat în vechiul conac din satul vecin Wingrave, în timp ce serviciul de informații militare a personalului condus de František Moravec a fost relocat în satul apropiat Addington. În 1940, Marea Britanie a recunoscut Comitetul Cehoslovac de Eliberare Națională ca guvernul cehoslovac în exil, cu Jan Šrámek ca prim-ministru și Beneš ca președinte. În recuperarea președinției, Beneš a susținut că demisia lui din 1938 a fost depusă în urma presiunilor și era, prin urmare, nulă.

În 1941 Beneš și František Moravec au planificat Operațiunea Anthropoid, cu intenția de a-l asasina pe Reinhard Heydrich. [14] Acest plan a fost pus în aplicare în 1942 și a determinat represalii brutale ale germanilor precum executarea a mii de cehi și distrugerea a două sate: Lidice și Ležáky.

Deși nu era comunist, Beneš s-a aflat, de asemenea, în relații de prietenie cu Stalin. Crezând că Cehoslovacia ar avea mai mult de câștigat dintr-o alianță cu Uniunea Sovietică decât cu Polonia, el a refuzat ferm planurile pentru o confederație polono-cehoslovacă și în 1943 a semnat o înțelegere cu Uniunea Sovietică. [15] [16] [17]

După insurecția din Praga de la sfârșitul celui de-al Doilea Război Mondial, Beneš s-a întors acasă și și-a reasumat fosta sa poziție de președinte. El a fost confirmat în funcție în unanimitate în ședința Adunării Naționale din 28 octombrie 1945. În temeiul articolului 58.5 din Constituție, „fostul președinte va rămâne în funcție până când noul președinte va fi ales”. La 19 iunie 1946 Beneš a fost ales în mod oficial pentru un al doilea mandat de președinte. [18]

Decretele lui Beneš (numite oficial „Decretele Președintelui Republicii”), printre alte lucruri, a expropriat proprietățile cetățenilor de etnie germană și maghiară și a pus în aplicare articolul 12 din Acordul de la Potsdam prin care se crea un cadru juridic național de pierdere a cetățeniei [necesită citare] și de expropriere a proprietăților a aproximativ trei milioane de germani și maghiari.

Au fost deportați din Cehoslovacia etnici unguri și germani. 2,4 milioane de germani, foști cetățeni cehoslovaci urmau să fie deportați în Germania și Austria prin decretul publicat pe 5 aprilie 1945. Așa numitul Tribunal al poporului i-a găsit vinovați de colaborare cu naziștii pe nemții și maghiarii care au renunțat la cetățenia cehoslovacă și au trădat Cehoslovacia. În consecință le-au fost confiscate averile, li s-a anulat cetățenia (au rămas cu cetățenia germană) și au fost deportați ca cetățeni străini. Aproape 75.000 de etnici unguri au fost transportați cu trenul în Ungaria la sfârșitul anului 1945. În total 600 de maghiari au fost acuzați de crime de război.

Beneš a prezidat un guvern de coaliție al Frontului Național, condus din 1946 de liderul comunist Klement Gottwald ca prim-ministru. La 21 februarie 1948, doisprezece miniștri necomuniști au demisionat pentru a protesta față de refuzul lui Gottwald de a opri politica de încorporare a comuniștilor în forțele de poliție, în ciuda faptului că majoritatea miniștrilor i-au cerut să înceteze. Miniștrii necomuniști credeau că Beneš va fi de partea lor și le va permite să rămână în funcții într-un guvern interimar până la noile alegeri.

Beneš a refuzat inițial să accepte demisiile lor și a insistat că guvernul nu poate fi format fără partidele necomuniste. Cu toate acestea, Gottwald a amenințat cu o grevă generală, cu excepția cazului în care Beneš va desemna un guvern dominat de comuniști. De asemenea, comuniștii au ocupat birourile miniștrilor necomuniști care au demisionat. Pe fondul temerilor că războiul civil era iminent și a zvonurilor că Armata Roșie îl va susține militar pe Gottwald, Beneš a cedat pe 25 februarie. El a acceptat demisiile miniștrilor necomuniști și a numit un nou guvern în conformitate cu specificațiile lui Gottwald. Era vorba nominal tot de un guvern de coaliție, dar era dominat de comuniști și de alți tovarăși de drum ai acestora, oferind legalitate loviturii de stat comuniste.

La scurt timp după aceea au avut loc alegeri în care votanților li s-a prezentat o listă unică a Frontului Național dominat de comuniști. Adunarea Națională nou-aleasă a aprobat Constituția de la 9 Mai la scurt timp după ce membrii ei au fost învestiți în funcție. Deși nu a fost un document în întregime comunist, el era destul de asemănător cu Constituția Sovietică pe care Beneš a refuzat să o semneze. El a demisionat din funcția de președinte la 7 iunie 1948 Gottwald i-a succedat la conducerea statului.

Beneš a avut o stare precară de sănătate după ce a suferit două accidente vascular-cerebrale în 1947 și a văzut că situația pe care a dorit să o evite o viață întreagă va deveni realitate. El a murit din cauze naturale, la vila lui din Sezimovo Usti (Cehoslovacia) pe 3 septembrie 1948. [8] A fost înmormântat în grădina vilei sale, iar pe mormânt i s-a amplasat un bust. Soția lui (care a trăit până la 2 decembrie 1974) este înmormântată alături de el.

În 1934 H.G. Wells a scris romanul The Shape of Things to Come, o predicție despre cel de-al Doilea Război Mondial. În opera lui Wells războiul începe în 1940 și durează până în 1950, Cehoslovacia reușește să nu fie ocupată de Germania și Beneš rămâne președintele țării în această perioadă. Wells îi atribuie lui Beneš rolul de a iniția un acord de încetare a focului pentru a pune capăt luptelor, iar cartea (care se presupune că a fost scrisă în secolul al XXII-lea) remarcă faptul că „suspendarea ostilităților de către Beneš rămâne în vigoare pentru astăzi”.

În Prague Counterpoint, cel de-al doilea volum al Zion Covenant Series de Bodie și Brock Thoene, Hitler trimite un asasin pentru a-l ucide pe Beneš — care eșuează din cauză că a fost placat de un jurnalist american (și este capturat de către gărzile de corp ale lui Beneš). Dar Hitler a folosit mai târziu executarea acestui nazist sudet pentru a-l proclama ca martir și a-și continua planul de anexare a Sudeților.

  1. ^ abcStudents of the Universities of Prague 1882–1945
  2. ^ abcd„Edvard Beneš”, Gemeinsame Normdatei , accesat în 26 aprilie 2014
  3. ^ abcdAutoritatea BnF , accesat în 10 octombrie 2015
  4. ^ abcdEdvard Beneš, SNAC , accesat în 9 octombrie 2017
  5. ^ abcdEdvard Benes, Encyclopædia Britannica Online , accesat în 9 octombrie 2017
  6. ^„Edvard Beneš”, Gemeinsame Normdatei , accesat în 31 martie 2015
  7. ^„Edvard Benes - Prague Castle”. . Accesat în 19 noiembrie 2013 .
  8. ^ ab Dennis Kavanagh ( 1998 ). „Benes, Edvard”. A Dictionary of Political Biography. Oxford University Press. p. 43 . Accesat în 31 august 2013 .
  9. – via Questia (necesită abonare)
  10. ^Princeton Alumni Weekly - Knihy Google. . Accesat în 19 noiembrie 2013 .
  11. ^„Radio Praha - Stalo se před 100 lety: Robinson a Beneš”. 28 aprilie 2001 . Accesat în 19 noiembrie 2013 .
  12. ^„Skauting »Historie”. Junák - svaz skautů a skautek ČR (în Czech) . Accesat în 23 septembrie 2007 . Mentenanță CS1: Limbă nerecunoscută (link)
  13. ^ 'Czech Army for France' in The Times, Thursday, 23 mai 1918, p. 6, col. F
  14. ^ ab William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Touchstone Edition) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990)
  15. ^„HISTORIE: Špion, kterému nelze věřit - Neviditelný pes”. 14 martie 2008 . Accesat în 19 noiembrie 2013 .
  16. ^ Andrea Orzoff. Battle for the Castle. Oxford University Press US. p. 199. ISBN978-0-19-974568-5 . Accesat în 10 august 2011 .
  17. ^ A. T. Lane Elżbieta Stadtmüller ( 2005 ). Europe on the move: the impact of Eastern enlargement on the European Union. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 190. ISBN978-3-8258-8947-0 . Accesat în 10 august 2011 .
  18. ^ Roy Francis Leslie R. F. Leslie ( 1983 ). The History of Poland since 1863. Cambridge University Press. p. 242. ISBN978-0-521-27501-9 . Accesat în 10 august 2011 .
  19. ^„Prozatimní NS RČS 1945-1946, 2. schůze, část 1/4 (28. 10. 1945)”. . Accesat în 19 noiembrie 2013 .
  • Hauner, Milan, ed. "'We Must Push Eastwards!' The Challenges and Dilemmas of President Beneš after Munich," Journal of Contemporary History (2009) 44#4 pp. 619–656 in JSTOR
  • Lukes, Igor. Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Benes in the 1930s (1996) online
  • Neville, Peter. Eduard Beneš and Tomáš Masaryk: Czechoslovakia (2011)
  • Preclík, Vratislav. Masaryk a legie (Masaryk and legions), váz. kniha, 219 pages, first issue vydalo nakladatelství Paris Karviná, Žižkova 2379 (734 01 Karvina, Czech Republic) ve spolupráci s Masarykovým demokratickým hnutím (Masaryk Democratic Movement, Prague), 2019, ISBN 978-80-87173-47-3, pages 8 - 34, 36 - 39, 41 - 42, 106 - 107, 111-112, 124–125, 128, 129, 132, 140–148, 184–215.
  • Rees, Neil ( 2005 ). The Secret History of the Czech Connection: The Czechoslovak Government in Exile in London and Buckinghamshire During the Second World War. Buckinghamshire: Neil Rees. ISBN0-9550883-0-5. OCLC62196328. , Antonín Klimek: The Life of Edvard Beneš 1884-1948: Czechoslovakia in Peace and War, Oxford University Press / Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-820583-XISBN 978-0198205838
    Book review by Richard Crampton.
  • Zinner, Paul E. ( 1994 ). „Czechoslovakia: The Diplomacy of Eduard Benes”. În Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert. The Diplomats, 1919-1939. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 100–122. ISBN0-691-03660-8. OCLC31484352. Munich : Prologue to Tragedy, New York : Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1948.
  • Hauner, Milan, ed. Edvard Beneš’ Memoirs: the days of Munich (vol.1), War and Resistance (vol.2), Documents (vol.3). First critical edition of reconstructed War Memoirs 1938-45 of President Beneš of Czechoslovakia (published by Academia Prague 2007. ISBN 978-80-200-1529-7)

Birouri guvernamentale
Funcție înființată
Ministru al Afacerilor Externe al Cehoslovaciei
Milan Hodža
Funcții politice
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
Președinte al Cehoslovaciei
Emil Hácha
Klement Gottwald
Emil Hácha
Președinte al guvernului din exil al Cehoslovaciei
Funcție desființată
Premii și realizări
Mareșalul Ferdinand Foch
Persoană de pe coperta revistei Time
23 martie 1925
George Harold Sisler

40 ms 1.7% Scribunto_LuaSandboxCallback::find 40 ms 1.7% Scribunto_LuaSandboxCallback::callParserFunction 40 ms 1.7% Scribunto_LuaSandboxCallback::getEntity 40 ms 1.7% [others] 220 ms 9.6% Number of Wikibase entities loaded: 2/400 -->

Below the brief outline of this event in history are soundbites from the period which provide actual events as they occurred.

In March of 1938, Nazi Germany led by Adolph Hitler gave an ultimatum to Chancellor Schuschnigg of Austria to resign and allow a new Chancellor of Germany's choosing to take over or Hitler's troops would march into Austria.

With his back against a wall, Schuschnigg did resign and Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, a Nazi puppet, took control. Immediately, he ordered the Austrian army to offer no resistance, and then invited German troops to enter Austria. Hitler achieved his Anschluss - the union of Austria and Germany.

When Austria became a part of Nazi Germany, little Czechoslovakia, a democratic country formed out of the victory of the Western Allies over Germany in the first World War, found itself surrounded on three sides. And though Britain and France had barely reacted to the previous Anschluss, Hitler knew full well he could not invade Czechoslovakia without a reason.

By May, things began to heat up. Rumors were flying around Europe that German troops were massing near the Czech border. For its part, the Czech Republics's reserves were being called up in case it became necessary to defend their homeland. Adolph Hitler traveled to Italy to secure the backing of its Facist leader, Mussolini, should he invade Czechoslovakia. Finally, Britain, France and Russia began to put some pressure on the Nazi leader. Meanwhile, little Czechoslovakia primarily through the quiet example of its president, Eduard Benes (pronounced Ben-ish), continued to stress moderation and calm. Though he was furious, Hitler backed away, claiming he had no aggressive intentions toward the Czechoslovak Republic.

However, in Berlin on May 28, he told his generals, "It is my unshakable will that Czechoslovakia shall be wiped off the map." He instructed them to develop a plan for completing this by October 1st.

The plan that would bring Europe once again to the brink of war was through the Sudentenland. This tiny section of the Czech Republic lay on the border of Germany. Many of the inhabitants were of German background as the land was at one time part of the German empire. One of the representative parties in Czech parliament was the Henlein party, which was composed of these Sudenten Germans. Named after the founder and leader of the party, Konrad Henlein, it would prove, as would Henlein himself, instrumental in bringing about the destruction of the tiny country.

With training from Himmler's SS troops, many pro-Nazi Sudenten Germans began in late summer to stir up things for the Prague government. Constant terrorist attacks as well as marches and rallies in the Sudentenland kept the Czech militia active. Again, while the goverment called for calm, that territory was anything but that.

Using these attacks as a front, the German propaganda machine began to cry for justice for these so-called persecuted Germans in Czechoslovakia. It was expected that Britain would once again cede to the wishes of the Fuhrer. In June, Chamberlain spoke "off the record" that Britain favored turning over the Sudetenland to Germany "in the interest of peace." The League of Nations, it seemed, was dead as they failed to intervene. Chamberlain sent his representative, Lord Runciman, to Czechoslovakia to mediate between that country and the Sudeten Germans. Chamberlain had forced Runciman on the Czechs by warning of dire circumstances if they did not accept his coming. Runciman sought more and more concessions for the Sudeten Germans from the Czech president, Eduard Benes. Benes was rapidly growing tired of the whole affair.

By September 5th, he asked to see the Sudeten German representatives asking them to draw up their demands and that he would accept them. But Hitler knew this would foil his plans. On September 7th, he ordered Henlein to break off all negotiations. War, it seemed, was on once again.

On the 10th, Benes broadcast to the world an appeal for calm and peace. Benes asked the Czech people to be "firm and have faith in our state, in its health and its strength, in the indestructible spirit and devotion of its people." Was Benes dreaming? Without a clear declaration of support from Great Britain, nothing was definite. That evening a speech by Goering pointed the way. Goering said of the Czechs "This miserable pygmy race without culture, no one knows where it came from, is oppressing a cultured people [Sudeten Germans] and behind it is Moscow and the eternal mask of the Jew devil. "

The following Monday evening Hitler gave a speech to the Nazi Congress in Nuremberg. While he ranted against the Czechs and its President Benes speaking of "justice" for the Sudeten Germans, he stopped short of talk of war. Once again, it seemed, crisis had been averted. But a side effect of Hitler's speech [inflamed by the German propaganda machine] caused outbreaks of fighting in the Sudetenland. So much so that by the 14th, Czechoslovakia had declared martial law and was recalling reserves. The BBC reported that Chamberlain sensing the new tension offered to travel to Germany to talk to Hitler. At 6 p.m. Karl Henlein, the Sudetenland leader gave an ultimatum to Benes: rescind martial law, recall the reserves to their barracks, withdraw the state police from the territory, and accept this by midnight or all negotiations would be called off. Czechoslovakia, he said, would be responsible for "further developments" if they failed to do so. And because Henlein took his lead from Hitler, the press and others concluded he meant war.

The Czech government rejected the ultimatum and the standoff continued. Late in the day, Chamberlain announced that he would go to Germany to meet with Hitler.Though the Czech's still felt they had things under control, the British government felt they needed to intervene. A war of words continued between Nazi Germany's radio and the Czech Republic shortwave station. Even Hungary, Germany's ally, was perpetuating rumors about events in the Sudetenland which Prague radio refuted. When Chamberlain traveled to Berchtesgaden, he met Hitler at the leader's mountain retreat. The meeting was cordial and Chamberlain and Hitler decided to meet again in a few days in Godesberg. It was feared that the two had agreed that a plebiscite should take place.

September 18th brought a speech from the Premier of Czechoslovakia, Milan Hodza (Hoed-yah). He declared that if Chamberlain and Hitler had agreed upon a plebiscite, it was unacceptable to his country. Hodza implied that if need be Czechoslovakia would go it alone against Hitler. Meanwhile in London, the French Premier Deladier was meeting with Chamberlain to discuss the Czechoslovakian situation. They would agree that a plebiscite must be held. And in Italy, Mussolini was calling for a plebiscite for all the races within Czechoslovakia. The vultures certainly smelled blood.

Monday, the 19th was generally quiet. France and Britain had given their proposal for a settlement to the Czechoslovak Government. In a 7:30 pm news broadcast, CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow outlined what it appeared the settlement included:

All the countries were in wait mode to see what the Czech government, and Hitler, would do next.

As Tueday, the 20th dawned, there was still no word from either government. Finally, at approximately 2:45 pm Eastern Standard Time, Maurice Hindus broadcasting for CBS from Prague interrupted his broadcast to announce the Czech communique.

But the Czech answer proved unsatisfactory to the British and French. They issued a joint declaration that the Czech decision was not acceptable and that Czechoslovakia must deliver unconditional acceptance within 24 hours or bear the consequences of invasion. Meanwhile, the scheduled second meeting between Hitler and Chamberlain, though delayed, was about to begin in Godesberg.

The day before the meeting between Hitler and Chamberlain was held, Maxim Litvinoff, the Soviet Union's Foreign Minister, addressed the League of Nations in Geneva. Litvinoff accused Britain and France of avoiding a problematical war today in return for a larger war later. He declared that the Soviet Union's "War Department is ready immediately to participate in a conference with representatives of the French and Czechoslovakian War Departments to discuss measures appropriate to the moment." Russia, it seemed was ready to meet her obligations with the Czech government. But that would prove futile. By the end of the day, the Czech government announced that they would accept the second ultimatum from Britain and France and surrender the Sudeten territory.

By the time Wednesday, the 22nd began the turmoil was increasing. The previous night there were crowds int he streets of Prague calling for the Czech military government to take control and defend their country from aggression. The crowd denounced France and Britain. And the Czech cabinet presented its resignation to President Benes, who was left with trying to form a new government. Meanwhile, the scheduled meeting between Chamberlain and Hitler got underway. No sooner had it begun than Hitler announced to the Prime Minister that the previous terms were no longer acceptable. Though the British, French and Czechs had all agreed to the secession of land, Hitler now demanded a German military occupation of the Sudetenland by October 1st (which had been his plan all along).

Once more the day ends in turmoil. Benes had chosen Jan Syrovy, the heroic Czech general, as his Premier and War Minister. And on the Czech-German border, there was back and forth fighting as Sudeten Germans took over the town of Eger, then lost it as the Czech military regained control. German troops were reported moving near the border and French troops also moved to protect their province, Alsace. The follow-up meeting between Hitler and Chamberlain was postponed as Chamberlain delivered a letter to the Fuhrer and an answer returned. Russia was making sounds that it would defend Czechoslovakia against both Polish and German aggression. France was making noises that if early movement into the Sudetenland by Germany took place, it would move to protect the Czech Republic. War seemed closer than ever before.

On Saturday, Chamberlain flew back to London after negotiations with Hitler had broken off. Mussolini declared that Czechoslovakia must give up the Sudetenland by October 1. In Paris, France mobilized its military as a protective measure. Before he left, Hitler delivered a memorandum to Chamberlain for him to present to Czechoslovakia. In effect he demanded immediate control of the Sudetenland, release of all German prisoners, a plebiscite be held without the presence of military troops from either side, and release of all resources within the territory. The brutal occupation he demanded was tempered with the plebiscite offer though it later proved hollow. The world went to bed that night wondering if they would wake up to world war. On the 27th Chamberlain took to the airwaves to deplore the way he was treated and the change in Hitler's earlier aggreements.

Over the next few days, events grew critical. Not only had France mobilized and the Soviet Union threatened to help Czechoslovakia, but now Great Britain said it too would step in to stop Germany if France is forced to act. President Roosevelt sent a second cablegram to Hitler stating:

Against such a rising tide, Hitler faltered slightly and offered to meet with France, England, and Italy in Munich. Chamberlain agreed to go calling it a "last effort."

On Thursday, September 29, the four powers, Germany, England, France and Italy met in Munich to decide the fate of Czechoslovakia. After about eight hours, an agreement was signed. The joint paper in effect still stated that Germany would take over the Sudetenland, but more slowly. Chamberlain who thought he had avoided war announced the "piece of paper" that both he and Hitler signed agreeing that Hitler's desires over Europe would stop with the Sudetenland. Hitler would later demean the agreement as a "scrap of paper." On October 1, German troops would come in to occupy the most German areas. Then each day additional movements would take place under jurisdiction of the four powers who would determine just how much territory was to be ceded. The less German areas would hold a plebiscite to determine if they want to stay a part of the Reich. Additional settlements were made over claims from Hungary and Poland. Czechoslovakia in effect had been carved up and was much smaller than previously, a much weaker state. Hitler had won.

By March 15th, 1939, through manipulations of the weakened Czech government, Hitler would peacefully occupy all of the country.

Watch the video: Eduard (August 2022).