What was Hitler's greatest triumph?

Hitler's war in Czechoslovakia

Seldom have triumph and failure been so close together as in the iconic photo from autumn 1938. When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain landed in London by plane and waved the Munich Agreement so visually, the world breathed a sigh of relief. Chamberlain later shouted to the press that he was bringing "peace for our time." In the Munich Agreement, the German Reich undertook to renounce further territorial claims in the east.

Chamberlain with the Munich Agreement

Czechoslovakia had lost the Sudetenland, so the argument at the time, but Europe won the peace. Chamberlain explained to a small group of people that Hitler was a man who could be trusted. He was wrong.

Six months later, on March 14, 1939, the President of Czechoslovakia was on the train to Berlin. Emil Hácha, an elderly, ailing man, is as weak as the country that he will rule for only a few hours. Hácha and his foreign minister are on their way to that "trustworthy" man who has long been quietly planning the conquest of Europe: Adolf Hitler.

"Hitler was not very pleased with the Munich Agreement," says the historian Detlef Brandes. Instead of being able to occupy all of Czechoslovakia as he wanted, Hitler had to be content with the Sudetenland. "The National Socialists then put Czechoslovakia under great pressure. In some areas of politics, including towards the Jews, it did not act as Hitler demanded."

The alleged millennial history

Adolf Hitler between Neville Chamberlain, Eduard Daladier and Benito Mussolini at the Munich Conference

In October 1938, just a few days after the Munich Agreement, Hitler ordered the top of the Wehrmacht to prepare for an invasion. In the weeks that followed, Nazi propaganda repeatedly evoked the alleged thousand-year history of the Germans in Bohemia and Moravia. And she spreads atrocious news: Germans are being harassed, persecuted and even murdered in the Czech Republic.

When Hácha finally arrives in Berlin on March 15, shortly before midnight, Hitler was watching a film. He made the state guest from Czechoslovakia wait two hours until he finally let him in at half past one at night. It is best for everyone, says Hitler, when the German Reich takes power in the remaining Czech territories. At 6 o'clock German troops would cross the border. Should Czech soldiers resist, it would lead to bloodshed. Hácha listens with a petrified look. When Hermann Göring finally threatens that the air force could bomb Prague too, Hácha suffers a fit of weakness. Hitler's personal doctor injects him back into shape.

Invasion of the Wehrmacht in Prague. A famous picture, pay attention to the faces of the Prague people.

Hácha gives the order over the phone to allow the Germans to penetrate without resistance. Shortly before 4 a.m. he signs his own abdication. He placed his office "trustingly in the hands of the Führer of the German Reich", it says in the document. Hitler is said to have cheered in front of his secretaries and called out that he would go down in history as the greatest German

"A Terrible Depression"

While the head of state is humiliated in Berlin, the Czech capital sleeps. On the morning of March 15th, it is freezing in Prague, far too cold for a spring day. At around 9 a.m., German troops reached the city. Lisa Mikovà was 17 years old at the time, she was Czech, Jewish and until then grew up bilingually - Czech and German. "We didn't take to the streets back then. We watched the march from the window," she remembers today. "Lots of people cried, lots of people clenched their fists. It was a terrible depression back then."

Part of the "millennial history" for Hitler: In Brno in the newly established Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia

Under the pretext of protecting the Germans in the Czech Republic, Hitler lets troops march in. But in reality the annexation means the end of German culture in this country. "The Germans were never very popular in Czechoslovakia," Mikovà said in an interview with DW. "Because of Hitler, the hatred increased, also because of the way the Sudeten Germans behaved. It was then no longer advisable to speak German on the street."

Poland follows Czechoslovakia

In the wake of the Wehrmacht, the Security Service (SD) invades the Czech territories. The secret service is looking for Social Democrats, German emigrants, Jews. In Prague alone, the SD arrested more than 2,000 people in the first hours after the invasion. "The Nuremberg Laws came with the Nazis," says Mikovà. "In June 1939 I had to leave school, just as all Jews had to disappear from public life." Lisa Mikovà's father, an import entrepreneur, loses his company. Three years later, Mikovà and her family are deported, and their parents are killed in Auschwitz.

The Czech Republic is now de facto annexed. One day after the invasion, the "Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia" is proclaimed. Prime Minister Chamberlain protested in vain from London - and learned his lessons from it. In March, Poland received the guarantee that Great Britain and France would come to the aid of the country should Germany attack. Chamberlain wants to prevent a "second Czechoslovakia" at all costs.

"Without the March events, Poland would probably not have been able to persuade Britain to sign a mutual assistance pact," says the historian Brandes. "The annexation of Czechoslovakia was an important step on the way to war. Because Hitler had not only 'collected' Germans, but also subjugated another people." Six months later, on September 1, 1939, the German Wehrmacht invaded Poland. Two days later, Great Britain and France are honoring their guarantee of assistance. The Second World War begins.