The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: Facing the Holocaust

By Livia Rothkirchen | Go to book overview
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3
The Aftermath
of Munich
The Crisis of the
Intellectuals

The agony of that “once admired model democracy of Central Europe” in the fall of 1938 and after the Munich Diktat has been a cardinal theme in postwar historiography.1 It has provoked widespread dispute and controversy.2 The accumulated corpus of memoir literature by some of the dramatis personae sheds new light on these crucial years.3

Since its establishment in October 1918 the Czechoslovak Republic had been plagued by acute nationality and minority problems resulting from the ethnic diversity of its population. Its Achilles' heel was the large and truculent German minority (3 million, 23.32 percent of the population), who had lived for centuries along the interior of Bohemia, enjoying privileged status as the dominant national entity. At the end of the First World War, with the dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy, the Böhmer (called Sudeten Germans since the twenties) found themselves a minority overnight, along with other ethnic groups, in the new Czechoslovakia.

With the advent of Nazism their national aspirations for territorial autonomy mounted to militancy. Henlein's Sudeten Deutsche Partei subsidized by Germany became more aggressive after the 1935 elections, when it polled 1.2 million votes (33 percent of the total German votes), greatly outnumbering the “activists”—moderate German parties—prepared to cooperate with the government.4

German propaganda and local irredentism increased in the ensuing years, when Hitler resolved to expand eastward to “liberate” more than 10 million Germans living in two of the states adjoining Germany—Austria and Czechoslovakia. To achieve his aim of destroying Czechoslovakia he set out to exploit the complaints of “suppression” voiced by the Sudeten Germans. His main

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