Munich agreement discouraged German resistance

Comments from a Swiss perspective

by Gotthard Frick*

In his contribution to the history and significance of the Second World War of 22 July 2020 (cf. Current Concerns No 15/2020), Russian President Vladimir Putin promotes his own interests and those of Russia just as Trump does his own and those of the USA. He basically acts according to the same principles as almost all politicians.
    Putin rightly points out that the Soviet Union made by far the greatest sacrifices for the victory over Nazi Germany. No other state had suffered such a high proportion of deaths and injuries among its troops and population and such extensive destruction. The author has also pointed out on various occasions that comparisons in US dollars between states – whatever is being compared – are misleading (“Neue Zürcher Zeitung”: war costs USA $ 272 billion and Soviet Union $ 192 billion). In the face of completely different economic systems – here the liberal US economy, there a communist economic system – of the most diverse prices and methods of determining them, as well as wages and social benefits, pay and other goods and services for soldiers, constantly fluctuating exchange rates and many other parameters, what are they supposed to say? Did the Soviet soldiers have such good rations as those of the USA? Did they also have as much comfortable holidays? In addition, there are the fundamental geographical differences of the theatres of war and the resulting completely different requirements for equipment, armament and combat procedures (the land area of the Soviet Union on the side of the Red Army, Europe, North Africa, Asia, and the Pacific on the side of the Allies).
    Most importantly, it has been proven that World War II would have been prevented in 1938 if Great Britain and France had not capitulated to Hitler at the Munich Conference and had not allowed him to destroy Czechoslovakia. Hitler not only annexed the Sudetenland (and shortly afterwards completely destroyed Czechoslovakia). He also allowed Poland, which he still wanted to draw to his side, and Hungary to occupy territories claimed by them (which both did in October/November 1938, Poland “with hyena appetite”, as Churchill wrote). Who knows this today?
    When Hitler travelled to the Munich Conference in September 1938, he did not expect the Allies to capitulate. Therefore he told his closest military leaders that he would attack Czechoslovakia after returning from Munich. The overwhelming majority of the German generals, including Hitler‘s supporters, were against a war – the latter, because they were convinced that Germany was not yet ready for it. At the 1938 General Meeting, therefore, the predecessor, Colonel General Beck, replaced by the self-appointed Supreme Commander Hitler, tried to persuade the German generals to resign collectively, thus making war impossible.
    The head of the German General Staff, General Franz Halder – he wanted to prevent a war with England at all costs – and other top officers conspired to arrest and depose Hitler after his return from Munich. Some conspirators even wanted to assassinate him on that occasion. The capitulation of France and Great Britain to Hitler made him a triumphant leader. The coup had become impossible in terms of domestic politics. On 28 September 1938 the conspirators dropped the plan. (Halder: “He’s succeeding at everything. What else can we do?”) After this frustrating experience, Halder concentrated entirely on his military duties and planned all major German operations until he was deposed by Hitler in 1942 because he was against the attack on Stalingrad.
    The conspiracy had an aftermath for General Halder (and several of his peers). After the failed bomb attack on Hitler on 20 July 1944, with which Halder had nothing to do, the Gestapo subjected numerous officers, politicians and citizens to bestial torture interrogations. Several conspiracies came to light, including that of General Franz Halder in 1938. He was immediately arrested with his wife and a daughter, sent to the Flossenbürg concentration camp, then to Dachau, and transferred to Tyrol before the rapidly advancing Allies, where he should have been executed. But the Allies liberated him shortly afterwards. At the Nuremberg war crimes trial he was one of the witnesses for the prosecution.
    The conspirators, among them numerous officers as well as many high officials and citizens of various parties, were sentenced to death and hung by their feet on meat hooks. Hitler came by from time to time to watch the conspirators suffering prolonged by this. The long-time conspirator and chief of the German defence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, was also exposed and hanged in the Flossenbürg concentration camp a few days before the end of the war. Only a few were allowed to kill themselves. They were too well-known and popular: Colonel General Beck “was allowed” to shoot himself, General Field Marshal Rommel – not involved, but informed about the conspiracy without passing on the information – killed himself with a poison pill supplied to him. Several unrecognised conspirators committed suicide because they feared that if they were arrested they would betray their comrades during the torture interrogations. For example, Major General Henning von Tresckow, Chief of Staff of Heeresgruppe Mitte, who shot himself. We should also remember one of the first of the many failed assassins, a Swiss, the Neuchâtel theology student Maurice Bavaud, who had tried to shoot Hitler in 1938. He was beheaded in Berlin on 19 May 1941.
    Halder was also important for Switzerland. As Chief of General Staff, he examined at the beginning of 1940, before the attack on France, whether a German bypass of the French fortress chain Maginot Line through Switzerland would be a promising option, or vice versa, a French attack on Germany through Switzerland. He came to a negative conclusion because of the Swiss army, which he considered to be strong and which was already in position in the Jura, but wrote in his war diary: “A bypass through undefended Switzerland would be a tempting option.”       •

(Translation Current Concerns)

Gotthard Frick is the author of the book “Hitlers Krieg und die Selbstbehauptung der Schweiz 1933–1945. Eine neue, umfassende Sicht auf die Selbstbehauptung der Schweiz im Zweiten Weltkrieg und die daraus für die Zukunft zu ziehenden Lehren” (Hitler’s War and Switzerland’s Self-Assertion 1933-1945: A New, Comprehensive View of Switzerland’s Self-Assertion in World War II and the Lessons to be Learned for the Future) (2011 - ISBN 978-3-033-02948-4), to be ordered from the publisher “Zeit-Fragen”.He studied civilisation française, economics and business administration at the University of Paris (Sorbonne and “Sciences Po”). For many years he was involved in large infrastructure projects (power plants, high-voltage lines, roads, tunnels, irrigation systems) in Switzerland and overseas. From 1968–2004 he dedicated himself to the establishment and management of a consulting, management and training company with an affiliated, English-speaking university of applied sciences, which worked worldwide for all development banks, UN organisations (ILO, WTO, UNDP), OECD, the Swiss and several other governments and companies. Frick was an Infantry battalion commander and is a member of the Swiss Social Democratic Party


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