September 16, 1938 – The Czech-German Border Dispute – War Of Words – Pressure On A Fragile Peace
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September 16, 1938 – News from Radio Prague, Radio Berlin, EIAR-Rome – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
September 16, 1938 – A day where the issues of a Fragile peace were being put to the test, as reported by the Shortwave services of Radio Berlin, Radio Prague and EIAR in Rome. At issue was an area known as The Sudetenland, which was part of Czechoslovakia and had been a bone of contention for some time. Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I. The Treaty of Saint-Germain recognized the independence of Czechoslovakia and the Treaty of Trianon defined the borders of the new state which was divided to the regions of Bohemia and Moravia in the west and Slovakia and Subcarpathian Russia in the east, including more than three million Germans, 22.95% of the total population of the country. They lived mostly in border regions of the historical Czech Lands for which they coined the new name Sudetenland, which bordered on Germany and the newly-created country of Austria.
The Sudeten Germans were not consulted on whether they wished to be citizens of Czechoslovakia. Although the constitution guaranteed equality for all citizens, there was a tendency among political leaders to transform the country “into an instrument of Czech and Slovak nationalism”. In 1933, Sudeten German leader Konrad Henlein founded the Sudeten German Party (SdP), which was “militant, populist, and openly hostile” to the Czechoslovak government and soon captured two thirds of the vote in the districts with a heavy German population. Historians differ as to whether the SdP was from its beginning a Nazi front organisation or evolved into one. By 1935, the SdP was the second-largest political party in Czechoslovakia as German votes concentrated on this party, and Czech and Slovak votes were spread among several parties. Shortly after the Anschluss of Austria to Germany, Henlein met with Hitler in Berlin on 28 March 1938, and he was instructed to raise demands that would be unacceptable to the democratic Czechoslovak government, led by President Edvard Beneš. On 24 April, the SdP issued a series of demands upon the government of Czechoslovakia that was known as the Karlsbader Programm. Henlein demanded things such as autonomy for Germans living in Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovak government responded by saying that it was willing to provide more minority rights to the German minority but was initially reluctant to grant autonomy. The SdP gained 88% of the ethnic German votes in May 1938.
On 12 September, Hitler denounced Czechoslovakia as being a fraudulent state that was in violation of international law’s emphasis of national self-determination, claiming it was a Czech hegemony although the Germans, the Slovaks, the Hungarians, the Ukrainians and the Poles of the country actually wanted to be in a union with the Czechs.
On 13 September, after internal violence and disruption in Czechoslovakia ensued, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain asked Hitler for a personal meeting to find a solution to avert a war. Chamberlain arrived by plane in Germany on 15 September and then arrived at Hitler’s residence in Berchtesgaden for the meeting. Henlein flew to Germany on the same day. That day, Hitler and Chamberlain held discussions in which Hitler insisted that the Sudeten Germans must be allowed to exercise the right of national self-determination and be able to join Sudetenland with Germany.
Here are reports from September 16th as broadcast by Berlin Radio – Prague Radio and Rome Radio, expressing varying points of view of the crisis. It was far from settled; that would eventually happen in the coming days. But it pointed up to the fact that the fragile peace was being put to a very serious test; one which finally collapsed less than a year later.