When Munich Became a Synonym for Appeasement

75 Years Since Neville Chamberlain Tried to Please Hitler

No Peace in Our Time: British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flashes the agreement with Adolf Hitler that he claimed ensured peace with the Nazi madman.
getty images
No Peace in Our Time: British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flashes the agreement with Adolf Hitler that he claimed ensured peace with the Nazi madman.

By Robert Zaretsky

Published September 17, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

“A quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.” When he pronounced these words, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was referring, of course, to Czechoslovakia. That “quarrel” eventually led to the Munich Agreement: an event which opened the path to WWII and whose 75th anniversary we are now marking. Rarely have past and present dovetailed with such unsettling timing.

While few American politicians today can equal Chamberlain’s grammatical rigor, quite a number do echo his sentiments not on Mitteleuropa, but instead the Middle East. At the same time, their opponents cite Munich as a warning to those who would, in their view, repeat the mistake of turning a blind eye to a nation bent on violence against innocents.

American Secretary of State John Kerry declared the West confronted a “Munich moment,” while the secretary general of the French Socialist Party, Harlem Désir, charged that the “spirit of Munich” had infected French critics of a military strike against Syria.

Historical comparisons are, by their nature, inexact yet invaluable, inevitable but inevitably limited. Munich—the synecdoche for the dramatic and dense series events of September 1938 that led to the West’s acquiescence to Czechoslovakia’s dismemberment—is no exception. Yet it is impossible to ignore the parallels and wonder if they offer guidance for us today.

Let us recall, first, the differences. By 1938, Adolph Hitler had already scuttled the restraints that the Treaty of Versailles had placed upon Germany two decades earlier. Confident and cunning, he then turned his attention to Czechoslovakia, the only pluralist and democratic state that rose from the rubble of the Habsburg Empire.

Posing as the liberator of the ethnic Germans in southern Czechoslovakia, Hitler threatened to go to war if Prague did not surrender these territories to Germany. Their nations bound to Czechoslovakia by firm treaty obligations, Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, the French prime minister, nevertheless ignored them. Gathered at Berchtesgaden, at a meeting stage-managed by Fascist Italy’s Benito Mussolini, Chamberlain and Daladier acceded to Hitler’s demands.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.