Eighty-two years ago today, on March 15, 1939, Hitler gave Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha a stark choice: accept becoming a protectorate or face destruction.
After Hácha reluctantly agreed to give up his country’s independence the German army started moving in. It was the beginning of six long years of occupation.
On September 30, 1938, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, French Premier Edouard Daladier, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact, which sealed the fate of Czechoslovakia, virtually handing it over to Germany in the name of peace.
Although the agreement was to give into Hitler’s hands only the Sudentenland, that part of Czechoslovakia where 3 million ethnic Germans lived, it also handed over to the Nazi war machine 66 percent of Czechoslovakia’s coal, 70 percent of its iron and steel, and 70 percent of its electrical power. Without those resources, the Czech nation was left vulnerable to complete German domination.
No matter what concessions the Czech government attempted to make to appease Hitler, whether dissolving the Communist Party or suspending all Jewish teachers in ethnic-German majority schools, rumors continued to circulate about “the incorporation of Czechoslovakia into the Reich.”
In fact, as early as October 1938, Hitler made it clear that he intended to force the central Czechoslovakian government to give Slovakia its independence, which would make the “rump” Czech state “even more completely at our mercy,” remarked Hermann Goering.
Slovakia indeed declared its “independence” (in fact, complete dependence on Germany) on March 14, 1939, with the threat of invasion squelching all debate within the Czech province.
Then, on March 15, 1939, during a meeting with Czech President Emil Hacha–a man considered weak, and possibly even senile–Hitler threatened a bombing raid against Prague, unless he obtained from Hacha free passage for German troops into Czech borders.
The president had to decide soon. The troops would march in the regardless beginning at 6 a.m. that morning. President Hácha, taken completely by surprise, was at first too shocked to respond and just sat there as if he had turned to stone.
Hitler was done with him for the time being and sent him into an adjoining room for further discussions with Göring and Ribbentrop. The two Nazis immediately pounced on the sickly president, badgering him to sign the surrender document which was placed on the table before him.
But Hácha, after regaining his composure, refused outright. The Nazis insisted again, even pushing a pen at him. He refused again. Now, Göring played his trump card. He told the Czech president that unless he signed, half of Prague would be bombed to ruins within two hours by the German Air Force. Upon hearing this, the frail president collapsed onto the floor.
The Nazis panicked, thinking they had killed the man with fright. Hitler’s personal physician, Dr. Theodor Morell, was rushed in and injected the president with vitamins to revive him. When Hácha recovered his senses, the Nazis stuck a telephone in his hands, connecting him with his government back in Prague.
Hácha spoke into the telephone and reluctantly advised his government to surrender peacefully to the Nazis. After this, Hácha was ushered back into Hitler’s presence.
At 3:55 a.m., Wednesday, March 15th, the Czech president signed the document stating he had “confidently placed the fate of the Czech people and country in the hands of the Führer of the German Reich.”
“Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist!” Hitler announced to the German people later that day, just before departing for Prague.
That evening, Hitler made his long-awaited entry into the grand old city at the head of ten vehicle convoy.