September 16, 1938 – A period of several days where the possibility of another War in Europe hung precariously in the balance. The issue was over territories, now part of the newly created Czechoslovakia, formerly part of the newly broken up Austro-Hungarian Empire. Those territories in question held some 3 million ethnic Germans, which Hitler demanded become part of Germany. The area in question was given the name Sudetenland – and even though it was never actually part of Germany to begin with, but was instead considered part of Austria, it was now part of Czechoslovakia. A movement had been afoot to make Sudetenland an autonomous territory. And during the early months of 1938, the Sudeten German Party (SDP), begun in 1935 as a pro-Nazi Political entity in Czechoslovakia, had grown to become the second largest political party in that country, and was putting pressure on Czech President Edouard Benes to grant the Sudeten Germans autonomy, but Benes refused. Now that Germany was no longer a vanquished enemy in World War 1, it had become a potent military power in the region and was flexing its political muscles and perfecting its bullying technique.
The resulting tug-of-war created a tense situation which brought Britain and France into the conflict, who were intent on preventing war at any cost. The problem was, Britain saw the German position on Czechoslovakia as somewhat justified, and urged Benes to accept the German proposal of autonomy and give Hitler the territories it was demanding. Benes was adamant. And the pro-Nazi SDP began a series of demonstrations and violent confrontations and put out claims that the Czech government was terrorizing the Sudeten Germans, further inflaming an already tense situation.
On this September 16th, Prime Minister Chamberlain was on his way back to London from continuing talks with Hitler, with no clear acceptable solution in sight.
And so Europe was once again preparing for the worst.
Here is a report on the situation of the day from the BBC’s Alistair Cooke and following that, an on-the-spot report of Chamberlain’s arrival in London from the latest round of talks.