Carlsbad Programme – the demand that opened the road to Munich and the end of Czechoslovakia

85 years ago, on April 24, 1938, Konrad Henlein of the Sudeten German Party voiced a list of demands commonly known as the Carlsbad Programme. They opened the way for Hitler’s Third Reich to annex the Sudetenland and rob Czechoslovakia of its vital border defences.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

More than 3 million Germans lived in Czechoslovakia at the time. Only around a third of this number lived on the territories of Bohemia and Moravia. The majority resided in the Czech borderlands which were commonly referred to as the Sudetenland. This area was hit especially hard during the economic crisis of the 1930s and brought much of the local German population into the hands of the pro-Nazi Sudeten German Party which was led by Konrad Henlein at the time.

Instructions from Berlin

Adolf Hitler and Konrad Henlein | Photo: German Historical Museum

After meeting with Adolf Hitler in Berlin, Henlein presented a series of demands at the Sudeten German Party congress in Carlsbad on April 24, 1938. These were aimed at the Czechoslovak state and were to be accepted unconditionally. The first was for the establishment of full equal status between Czechs and Germans. This was followed by the demand for full recognition of the German settled area within Czechoslovakia and for the establishment of self-governance within this territory in all aspects of public life. The programme also called for the elimination of injustices inflicted upon the Sudeten Germans since end of the First World War and for compensation for the damage that was caused to them. Public administration in these territories was to be exclusively handled by Germans and the last demand called for Germans to be completely free to profess their nationality and the “German world view”.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

The Sudeten German Party congress took place shortly after the so-called Anschluss of Austria, which saw Germany annex its southern neighbour in March 1938. A day before the congress began, the Wehrmacht had already began preparing for war with Czechoslovakia.

Allied betrayal

At first, the Czechoslovak government resolutely refused most of the demands that were pressed by Henlein. However, tensions continued to rise, with armed clashes taking place in the Sudetenland.

Munich meeting in 1938 | Photo: Bundesarchiv,  Bild 183-R69173/Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 1.0

The Czechoslovak state also came under major international pressure, especially from the British government led by the Tory Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and, to a lesser degree, from France’s Prime Minister Edouard Daladier. Both of these countries were afraid that the situation could turn into another Great War and they called on Czechoslovak President Eduard Beneš to accept the Carlsbad Programme and thus at least partially satisfy German demands.

Copy of the Munich Agreement | Photo: Štěpánka Budková,  Radio Prague International

The situation culminated in the so-called Munich Agreement in September 1938, where the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy agreed that Czechoslovakia would have to secede much of its border territories with Germany.

Czechoslovak government representatives were not invited to the conference and the Munich Agreement served as a de-facto ultimatum that Czechoslovakia eventually agreed to under immense pressure. It was the beginning of the end of the Czechoslovak Republic and a key step towards the eventual breakout of war in September 1939.