Warnings of Hitler's ambitions go unheeded
We quite often hear it said that in the run-up to World War Two, no-one quite realized the scale of the threat that Nazi Germany posed in Europe. When Hitler set his eyes on Czechoslovakia, there were plenty of politicians in Western Europe who really seemed to believe his promise that the Czech borderlands, the so-called Sudetenland, were his “last territorial claim”. But Czech Radio’s archives show only too clearly, that here in Prague there were plenty of people who were quite aware of the worldwide menace that Hitler posed. As Britain and France pursued their policy of appeasement towards Germany, these were voices that, tragically, remained unheard.
Here, for example, is the Prague left-wing journalist Kurt Konrad, who on the 17th September 1938, a few days before the Munich Agreement was signed, hit the nail on the head in describing Hitler’s real ambitions for the Czechoslovak Republic.
“According to his conviction, Hitler wants the whole of Czechoslovakia, not only the Sudetenland, and no concessions in the Sudeten German question could satisfy the ever-increasing appetite of the Third Reich, as long as these concessions were to preserve the sovereignty and unity of the republic. He means to weaken and crush the republic, and turn it into a vassal state of Germany. According to his opinions, the airplanes constructed in the highly efficient Czechoslovakian factories, should appear in the service of the Third Reich above London bearing deadly freight.”
Kurt Konrad was spot on. Within two years bombs were falling on London, and Hitler really did use Czech armaments – and in particular tanks - in his invasion of Western Europe, weapons that he had gained without a shot being fired. Kurt Konrad paid a high price for the clear-sightedness. He was arrested just months after Nazi troops fulfilled another of his predictions and stormed into Prague in March 1939, and he was to perish in a Gestapo prison in Dresden in 1941.
Another prominent Czech who had no illusions about Hitler, was the historian Jan Slavík, who spoke on Radio Prague on 29th September 1938, pointing out the hypocrisy of Hitler’s claims to be defending the civil rights of Czechoslovakia’s German minority.
By a bitter irony, Professor Slavík’s warning was broadcast on the very same day that Hitler and Mussolini, and the British and French Prime Ministers, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, met in Munich to grant Hitler nearly a third of Czechoslovakia’s territory. Sadly Mr Chamberlain was not one of those who listened to Radio Prague’s English broadcasts!
The episode featured today was first broadcast on January 24, 2008.