Lord Runciman’s Mission to Czechoslovakia
In the late summer of 1938, the fate of the Czechoslovak Republic was being decided. The Sudeten German-speaking minority wanted to split from the country and join Nazi Germany. Hitler threatened war on Czechoslovakia if their demands were not met. Britain and France were bound by treaties to help the Czechs but wanted desperately to avoid the war. So, they sent a special envoy to the country – Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount of Doxford, in short, Lord Runciman. Vít Pohanka found an episodic but fascinating story connected with Lord Runciman’s historic mission.
But very few, if any, of the visitors know that right here within the walls of the chateau one hot summer weekend of 1938 a group of patriotic Czech noble families tried to save their country as they knew it. They invited and tried to persuade about the need to save Czechoslovakia a man who had the power to do so. He was sent by the British government on a difficult mission which would have repercussions for the whole of Europe – Lord Runciman. Vít Smetana from the Institute of Contemporary History in Prague has thoroughly researched and published extensively about the crisis of 1938. This is how he introduces Lord Runciman.
“He was a liberal politician and served from 1930 to 1937 in the cabinet as the President of the Board of Trade. When Neville Chamberlain formed a new government in 1937 he offered Runciman only a junior post and he declined it. Nevertheless, as a political figure officially independent on the government he seemed a suitable choice for such a mission.”
“I remember him vividly because he was quite a flamboyant personality. He was playing tennis and jumping over the net at the age of 75, literally one week before he died. He was quite a character.”
“In that late summer of 1938, my grandfather and grandmother were at the heart of history that was happening right here in our house in Žďár. President Beneš asked my grandfather to organize a meeting for Lord Runciman would have an opportunity to hear what the Czech aristocracy had to say. To see that a solution needed to be found to sort out the mess on both sides and not only one side.”
Final note: Constantin Kinsky took over the family Chateau and estate in Žďár nad Sázavou after his father´s death some ten years ago. He and his wife split their time between Prague and Žďár. In 2016 they were awarded the highest honor by the Highlands Region for their contribution to the local cultural, social and economic life. Even though they spent their childhood and youth in France, no one considers them foreigners.