To understand why Germany invaded Austria and Czechoslovakia we need to know the backstory i.e.
What happened in Germany after World War I
The aftermath of World War I left the defeated German powers in ruins by imposing harsh treaties. Under the threat of Allied advances, the Germans were forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, the Germans viewed the treaty as humiliation as it was blaming it for the entire war.
132 billion gold marks were demanded by Germans in reparation of only which 52 billion had been paid. Along with this many other harsh restrictions were imposed under the treaty.
The treaty required Germany to permanently reduce the size of its army to 100,000 men, destroy their tanks, air force, and U-boats.
But the most outraging of all was the transfer of territories. The Germans territories were transferred to Allied forces after their defeat in World War I.
A small amount of territory was transferred to Denmark, Czechoslovakia, and Belgium, a large amount was given to France but the greatest portion as a part of it to reestablish Poland.
The loss of this territory that composed a newly independent Polish state including the city of Danzig and the reparation of Prussia from Germany which caused resentment and gave rise to Nazi that believed this treaty was unfair – Many Germans never accepted the treaty as legitimate, and henceforth started supporting Adolf Hitler and his visions.
After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 his ultimate goal was to become a world power and he initiated by occupying the lost lands of Austria and Czechoslovakia
Why did Germany annex Austria
Way before the outbreak of World War II, it all started in 1938 with Anschluss.
What is Anschluss?
Anschluss translates in German as ‘union’ and is referred to the annexation of Austria. On 12 March 1938, the Nazi brought the idea of a ‘Greater Germany’ with uniting the taken land of Austria after World War I.
The Treaty of Saint Germain signed on 10th September 1919 and the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June 1919 forbids the newly formed Republic of ‘German-Austria’ there has already been a lot of support on both the sides of Austria and Germany for the unification.
And other than the dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy, Austria was in ruins, with severe economic crisis but the idea of uniting with the German was a spark of hope for citizens of the political left and canter.
Though it was not the same case in the early 1930s, it all changed in 1933 when Austrian born Adolf Hitler took control of German and cultivated pro-unification tendencies in Austria, with the idea of joining Germany with Austria grew in popularity and a big part of which involved strong slogans such as “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” (One people, One empire, One leader) to try to convince Austria to advocate for an Anschluss to the German Reich.
And sought to determine the Austrian government which was controlled by the Austro fascist Fatherland Front. In 1934 Austrian Nazi assassinated Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, this defeat led Austrian Nazi to go into exile in Germany where they continued their effort for the unification of two countries.
In early 1938 Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg announced that there could be a possible referendum on 13th March on a union with German, it was announced under the increasing pressure from pro-unification activists, also Adolf Hitler threatened an invasion and secretly pressured Schuschnigg to resign.
And as stated on 12th March the German Wehrmacht crossed the Austrian border and was not only unopposed but also greeted with much joy. An official referendum of Anschluss with Germany was held on 10th April 1938 by the time the Germans had already occupied Austria. The results of the referendum were reported with 99.73% in favor of annexation.
What was the Sudetenland, and why did Germany want to annex it?
After World War I Austria-Hungary broke apart and an independent Czechoslovakia was proclaimed, Sudetenland was a section of western Bohemia and northern Moravia, which was richly dominant with the German population, was incorporated into Czechoslovakia.
The Germans in Czechoslovakia were about 3,000,000 which amounts to 23% of the total population.
Sudetenland was known for its export-dependent industries such as glasswork, toy making, paper making, and textile industries were highly affected by The Great Depression in the 1930s, the high unemployment made people open to extremist movements such as fascism, communism, and German irredentism, taking advantage of this the German Nationalist and Sudeten German National Socialist Party (SdP) gained much popularity among Germans in Czechoslovakia with their radical demands.
During this period Hitler’s increasing aggressiveness prompt the Czech military to built fortifications along the border and immediately after the annexation of Austria in March 1938, Hitler’s next target was in Czechoslovakia following the Sudeten crisis on 24th April 1938 the SdP demanded an 8 point program known as the Karlsbader Program starting point of equality between Sudeten Germans and Czechs people which the government accepted on 30 June 1938.
To settle this occurring crisis The British Prime Minister sent Lord Runciman to Czechoslovakia to provide a possible settlement between the Czechs Government and the Sudeten Germans and after many meetings both the sides of the Sudeten of SdP and the Czech Prime minister and in end, he reported with 4 detailed plans to deal with the ongoing crisis
The Points were
- Transfer of Sudetenland to the Reich
- Hold a referendum on the transfer of the Sudetenland to the Reich
- Organize a four plan conference on the matter
- Create a federal Czechoslovakia
He also noted that the transfer of territory would be a good thing to do, but the Czech army would oppose this very strongly.
Following the report on 15th September, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met Adolf Hitler agreed on the cession; three days later the French Prime Minister did the same. No Czech representative was invited and the Germans acquired the land without firing a shot.
Further to confirm the agreement when Chamberlain met Hitler, Hitler aiming to use the crisis as a pretext for war now demanded the immediate military occupation of the territories giving the Czechoslovak army no time to adapt their defense measures to the new borders.
Hitler in his speech at Berlin stated that the Sudetenland was the last territory demand he had in Europe. But also gave the deadline of 28 September 2:00 pm or else could face war.
To avoid the war and achieve a possible solution to this Italian dictator Benito Mussolini suggested a conference of the major powers in Munich known as the Munich Agreement
The Munich Agreement was signed between Nazi Germany, the United Kingdom, the French Third Republic, and the Kingdom of Italy not including Czechoslovakia or the Soviet Union, and took place on 29-30 September in Munich 1938.
It provided ‘cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory’ of Czechoslovakia; most of Europe celebrated this agreement as it prevented war threatened by Adolf Hitler to annex Sudetenland but this celebration was not going to last as it is also known as the Munich Betrayal as later in 1939 Germany broke the agreement by invading Poland and further starting the World War II.
Important dates to remember
1)When did Germany invade Austria?
12 March 1938
2)When did Germany invade Sudetenland?
30 September 1938
3)When was the Munich Agreement signed?
30 September 1938