This Day In Histroy: FDR Appeals to Hitler Not To Invade Czechoslovakia (1938)

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On this day in history in 1938, the American President was becoming increasingly worried about the situation in Europe. Less than twenty years after the end of WWI the continent seemed about to be on the verge of another brutal conflict that would lead to massive loss of life and destruction. The American leader Franklyn D Roosevelt wrote a leader to Hitler asking him to consider the peace of Europe and to do all he could to make sure that war did not erupt again. The American President wrote the letter at a time when the country at large was fearful of another war.

This was to be Roosevelt’s second intervention in only a week. Hitler was demanding that part of Czechoslovakia be returned to Germany. If it was not returned he threatened invasion and this would most likely mean a general way in Europe. This was because the French and British were supporting the Czechoslovakian President.  Roosevelt urged not only Hitler but all other parties to resolve the crisis peacefully and if necessary compromise.  In particular, Hitler was asked by Roosevelt to negotiate with the Czechs in order to come to a compromise and prevent war.

Francisco Franco and Hitler
Hitler and Franco (1939)

Hitler was not easy to persuade and was not impressed by Roosevelt’s pleas. He replied that he was merely trying to rescue Germans who were being persecuted in Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, he pointed out that he was merely trying to undo the injustice that was perpetrated on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles.  This treaty had given a German-speaking area to the newly created Sudetenland, that saw itself as belonging to Germany. Hitler believed that any invasion of the Sudetenland was justified and would be welcomed by the local people. Any attack on the region would be merely an exercise in helping the local people to reunite with their fellow Germans.

In the letter of the 27th of September, Roosevelt once again asked for reassurances that Hitler would not invade. As part of his efforts to defuse the situation, he suggested that there should be established a Conference of all nations. He also tried to persuade Hitler to think of the future of humanity. FDR wanted to act as an arbitrator and help the Europeans to come to a peaceful resolution.  He also assured Hitler that American would remain neutral.

Eventually, the British and the French adopted the policy of appeasement and they persuaded the Czechs to give up the Sudetenland to avoid a general war. This was seen as a historic moment and many hoped it could bring peace to Europe. This was not the case because Hitler had plans for Europe, that included the German annexation of territories in the east. In early 1939, despite his earlier assurance Hitler invaded and absorbed the rest of Czechoslovakia. This was to convince many that Hitler wanted to dominate Europe and that if they did not want to be enslaved by the Nazis, they would have to fight.  FDR after 1939 came to believe that only war would stop Hitler.

 

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