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!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • 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.