Poland Joined Hitler in Dismembering Czechoslovakia

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It’s
widely known that Hitler and Stalin dismembered Poland in 1939.
Little known is that, a year earlier, Poland had joined Hitler in
dismembering Czechoslovakia.

This
ironic bit of historical trivia appears in Volume One of The
Illustrated World War II Encyclopedia
. Hardly a work of
conspiracist revisionism [see its credits at the bottom of this
article], its recounting of Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia
is well known, apart from the details concerning Hungary and Poland's
roles.

According
to the Encyclopedia, in May 1938, Hitler mobilized his military
to annex Czechoslovakia’s German-speaking Sudetenland. When Britain,
France, and the USSR threatened war, Hitler backed down, but continued
pressing the issue. On September 15, Britain’s Neville Chamberlain
visited Hitler to discuss a peaceful solution. On September 22,
Chamberlain agreed to allow Hitler to annex the Sudetenland but
refused to permit immediate entry for German troops, thus Hitler
remained dissatisfied. On September 23, Czechoslovakia mobilized
its military and war looked imminent.

Then
Poland made its move. On September 27, seeing Czechoslovakia in
crisis as Germany prepared to invade, Poland issued an ultimatum
demanding that Czechoslovakia cede its Tesin (Teschen) district.

On
September 29, France, Britain, Germany, and Italy signed the Munich
Agreement. This allowed Hitler to take the Sudetenland in exchange
for him agreeing to "guarantee" Czechoslovakia’s borders
– but only after Poland and Hungary (which by now had joined in)
had taken their shares.

The
Encyclopedia reports: "As Article 1 of the [Munich]
agreement put it, u2018when the question of the Polish and Hungarian
minorities in Czechoslovakia has been settled, Germany and Italy
will each give a similar guarantee to Czechoslovakia'. Poland had
been first to share in the spoils. After an ultimatum from Warsaw
on September 27, 1938, Czechoslovakia had ceded to Poland the district
of Tesin (Teschen) – an area of some 625 square miles with a population
of 230,000 people."

Returning
in Britain, Chamberlain made his famous "peace in our time"
statement while waving the Munich Agreement. Today, many people
know that the Agreement gave Czech territory to Germany; few know
that it also gave Czech territory to Hungary and Poland.

After
Poland annexed Czechoslovakia's Tesin district, Hungary took some
of Czechoslovakia's Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia region, claiming that
it had been stolen from Hungary after World War One by the 1920
Treaty of Trianon.

If
Czechoslovakia appears to have rolled over without a fight, it was
partly because, even as it was being dismembered, it was contending
with secessionist demands from its Slovakian region. To appease
its Slovak citizens, Czechoslovakia agreed to grant more autonomy
to Slovakia, and to hyphenate the country’s name, so it became Czecho-Slovakia.

Abandoned
by its allies and threatened with civil war, the Prague government
hoped that Germany, Hungary, and Poland would be satisfied with
their immediate territorial demands. The Encyclopedia reports
that: "Having appeased the Polish and Hungarian demands in
accordance with the Munich Agreement, Czecho-Slovakia was now entitled
to ask for the promised guarantees from Italy and Germany. On November
5, Chvalkovsky raised the point in a discussion with Dr. Hencke,
German charge d'affaires in Prague, only to be dismissed with the
reply: u2018The question of the guarantee will not arise until the new
frontiers have been defined in detail by the commissions.'"

But
instead of guaranteeing the new borders, Hitler took advantage of
Czecho-Slovakia's internal divisions. He encouraged Slovakia to
declare independence, so that he could more easily take the remaining
Czech region. As enticement, in March 1939, Hitler promised Slovakia
that if it declared independence, he would protect it – from Hungary
and Poland.

The
Encyclopedia states that Hitler gave Slovakia a choice: "[O]n
one hand, the autonomous Slovak Government could continue to exist
according to the statute granted to it in the previous autumn by
the Prague Government – in which case Germany would settle accounts
with the Czechs and leave the Slovaks to the mercies of Poland and
Hungary. Alternatively, if Slovakia demanded immediate independence
from Prague, the Reich would offer all-powerful protection to the
new state, and would shield her from the territorial greed of Warsaw
and Budapest."

Most
of us know the fallout. Hitler annexed the remaining Czech region.
Slovakia won its independence, only to be reunited with the Czechs
under Communism, then seceded again after Communism's collapse.

After
the USSR was cut out of the Munich Agreement by its French and British
allies, Stalin, always paranoid and now distrusting France and Britain
more than ever, did his own about-face and signed the 1939 Non-Aggression
Pact with Hitler.

Less
than a year after taking its piece of Czechoslovakia, Poland was
conquered by Hitler and Stalin. To this day, Russia has not returned
much of the territory it took from Poland during World War Two.

Were
Poland or Hungary's claims to Czechoslovakian territory valid? I
truly don't know. But in any event, I do think it makes for an interesting
and ironic bit of historical trivia.

August
16, 2003

Thomas
M. Sipos’s [send him mail]
libertarian-leaning novels include Vampire
Nation
and Manhattan
Sharks
. His website: www.CommunistVampires.com.


        
        

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