Peace in our time. Chamberlain announced it in Heston airport after his return from Munich. The Second World War would break out in less than a year.


In February 1933, after Hitler's impudent interview, Polish dictator Józef Piłsudski tried to offer his French allies a pre-emptive expedition against Germany.

This initiative is nowadays denied. But the circumstances, which testify for it, also testify against French politicians and militarymen, who cowardly passed over it in silence. Germano-Polish relations needed to be cleared anyway; Germany still had been blocking Polish trade, it still had been conducting anti-Polish propaganda. Militarily weak German Reich could be easily pacified by relatively small French-Polish effort, hitlerite party's squads could be easily dispersed and the first embryos of reviving military power could be throttled. Undoubtedly such an operation, although painful, would dismiss a danger menacing not only Poland. Contemporary Polish propaganda claimed that after the defeat in the First World War Germany would not be able to recover for generations. The chaos of the Great Depression seemed to prove that theory. But in 1933 the period of Germany's weakness was apparently getting finished. Throughout the country resounded drumbeats. It was the last chance to curb that mad throng. But a military action could not be heralded on world's bazaars. War preparations had been made in a deep secret. Militarymen had to consider opinion of pacifists, who would be likely to brand them aggressors. Those people, whose naїveté has not a parallel in the human history, simply demanded peace at any price. In those circumstances - at the price of Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries of East Europe. They met a wide response in the French society, horrified by bloody casualties of the First World War. With time they had coined a notorious slogan: "Why die for Danzig?" That unfathomable naїvetë of many prominent Frenchmen coincided with astounding short-sightedness of many influential Britons. Here is the opinion of Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, a British expatriate, an expert in German affairs and an adviser of His Majesty's Government:

Hitler, I am convinced, does not want war. He is susceptible to reason in matters of foreign policy. He is greatly anxious to make Germany once more self-respecting and is himself anxious to be respectable. He may be described as the most moderate member of his party. [Documents on British foreign policy, 1919-1939. (1954).]

Nowadays it is illogical to deny Polish offer to dispose Hitler before he disposed Europe, since we can judge the whole contemporaneous situation from the historic perspective. In official newspaper Gazeta Polska Józef Beck, the Polish foreign minister, wrote in the spring 1933: In case of western lands Poland can and will speak only with voice of guns. [Terlecki O. (1985).] Soon Polish troops landed on Westerplatte peninsula in Danzig in response for another provocation of Danzig Germans. Many newspapers immediately made a big hubbub; in their publishers' opinion the Germans in Danzig were oppressed. Political and military leaders promptly hid Polish offer, concerning pre-emptive war, in archives. The disregard to it gives them a certificate of stupidity. Stupidity, which within next six years had to achieve a skyscrapering level.

From defeatist tendencies, from naїve belief in possibility to appease bandits at someone else's expense, from the most ordinary stupidity in March 1933 was born so-called Four Powers Pact, which gave Germany something like equality with Great Britain, France and Italy, and again clearly opened a way to revenge in the east. Poland, Czechoslovakia and Lithuania sharply protested. In those circumstances Hitler offered conclusion of bilateral non-aggression pacts. He still was too weak and perfectly understood his weakness. But in October Germany left the League of Nations, to which she was admitted after Locarno.

The non-aggression pact concluded in January 1934 between Germany and Poland had brought to the latter some temporary advantages. First of all the anti-Polish propaganda was silenced to time. It even came to a paradox that the Germans ceased barking over revision of the Polish western border while some dolts from French and British press still used to yelp over the issue.

But it was Germany to really profit from the pact. Of course Hitler did not intend to renounce Posnania, Pomerania or Upper Silesia. But above all he expected that Poland allied with Germany could be used as a ram to pound in Moscow's gates. For that apart from the public text some secret clauses were signed. That caused distrust towards Poland in the West. It was proclaimed that Poland had allied herself with Germany; the opinion strengthened after the Polish government's firm refusal to sign in so-called Eastern Pact, which was conceived as a sort of "eastern Locarno" to bring guarantees of borders and solidarity in face of an aggression in that region. Piłsudski rejected the project only because the Soviet Union was a part in the pact. It marked a severance of just animated Polish-Soviet relations.

Meanwhile due to dispersion of forces capable to restrain effectively reviving German aggressiveness, Hitler acted bolder and bolder. In 1934 he hired assassins to murder the Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who vigorously opposed an idea to incorporate Austria into the German Reich. It is peculiar that only Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, was at the time willing to stand against Germany and even massed his troops on the Brenner Pass. At the time he still was maintaining a traditional anti-German course of Italian policy. And the strongest then in Europe Italian air forces were prepared to close co-operation with French forces. But France and Great Britain remained completely passive. Hitler exploited it utterly and in March 1935 proclaimed restitution of the general conscription. Since then merely hundred thousand strong, frail Reichswehr started to transform into the multimillion Wehrmacht. But this army did not exist yet next year, in March 1936, when Hitler sent troops to Rhineland. According to treaty decisions the Germans were forbidden to deploy garrisons in that region. Now they had introduced them in the immediate France's neighbourhood. But German forces still were too weak. Remilitarization of Rhineland was just a bluff perpetrated with few infantry battalions without tanks and heavy artillery. But the French with the tail between their legs handed the case over to the League of Nations where it sank in an ocean of claptrap.

It was the first serious capitulation of democracy before Hitler. It increased the angle of the slippery slope, along which the world rolled faster and faster down to the war.

Shocked French politicians undertook, it must be admitted, some attempts to improve the situation. Among others they concluded a military alliance with the USSR and Czechoslovakia and solidified the decayed alliance with Poland; in autumn 1936 Poland was granted a loan for supplementary military equipment. Piłsudski died in May 1935 but his spectre was haunting the corridors of the Polish ministry for foreign affairs. Piłsudski left his successors clear directions: to keep the balance, to avoid Russia like a devil, to seek a rapprochement with London, which was more and more considered in Paris. The last direction very truly reflected Europe's political realities. Unfortunately, London was then a bastion of pro-German sympathies.

On 12 March 1938 was finally realized incorporation of Austria into Germany. The Italians did not interfere this time. A lot had changed within preceding years. Italian dictator had assented that seeking partners in Paris and London was pointless. From Hitler he had received now a telegram: Mussolini, I shall never forget you for this! It marked a prelude to closer in the nearest future association of both dictators. British and French governments issued soft protests against annexation of Austria; it was known beforehand, that their protests would carry no consequences.

Simultaneously was going on the German coquetry of Poland. With time Berlin defined suggestion of a common Germano-Polish expedition against the Soviet Union. Ukrainian lands had to become a Polish part of the loot. And Warsaw politicians were listening to that with growing interest. The coquetry of Poland though did not prevent the Germans from persecution of Polish minority in Silesia, East Prussia and Westphalia as well as creating and training Ukrainian nationalists, who would become leaders of a possible rebellion.

In 1938 from Berlin was launched an action of the Germans living in Czechoslovak frontier lands, particularly mountainous counties in the Sudetes. Czechoslovakia's ally, France, renounced a possible allied help. Czechs, left to their own fate, retreated step by step, and in October finally capitulated. It came out in result of a conference organized by Hitler in Munich with participation of the French prime-minister Edouard Daladier, British prime-minister Neville Chamberlain and Italy's dictator Mussolini. Leaders of great democracies utterly gave in, in name of a delusion of appeasement. Czechoslovakia lost a vast frontier land with fortifications, built there at the high cost right in case of a German aggression. Perfectly armed Czechoslovak army got overpowered. It was a defeat at an unusual scale. Some realised it very soon. Daladier, coming back from Munich, cheered at a Paris airport snarled: Blind fools! They are cheering me. For what? He knew he had committed a fault beyond repair; but he could not feel either in himself or in France enough strengths to commit not that fault. Chamberlain, contrary, was elated; he felt himself a saviour of mankind. Cheered equally enthusiastically in a London airport he told the audience with emphasis that he had brought peace in our time. Although personally a very charming gentleman, Chamberlain was beyond any doubt one of the biggest fools, who ever led a world's power. He truly believed Hitler's assurances that after the seizure of Sudetes Germany would not make any new territorial claims.

Germany did not stay isolated in her plunder of Czechoslovak lands. Hungary and Poland also took part in it although they were not a part of Munich agreement.

At the time of the Munich capitulation Czechoslovakia possessed the most modern military equipment, namely 470 tanks, 1600 aircraft and 2700 pieces of artillery of various calibres. Czechoslovak army was one of the best in Europe, reinforcements were possible thanks to Škoda factories, just in time moved to Slovakia. Czechs and Slovaks' industry not only could reinforce their own modern forces, but also it could provide the Polish army with necessary armoured, artillery and air forces units. Polish army was poor in comparison with the Czechoslovak one, but it could contribute with 30 infantry divisions and 11 cavalry brigades. Their joint defence could spark in 1938 a war disastrous to Germany. Naturally, on the Polish-Czechoslovak side would stand other bigger and smaller allies, for it was in everybody's interest to batter hitlerite bones.

Edvard Beneš, the president of the Czechoslovak Republic and her leader of many years, who ruled that really democratic country in an amazing autocratic style, had never been a friend to Poland. But Czechoslovak authorities and general staff sympathized with Poland, still more important that it came out not from sentiments but from mind, what in policy counts better than in love. However, Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz, who was designated the Poland's wartime supreme commander, had ruled out any commitment alongside Czechoslovakia.

In the beginning of October 1938 Polish troops occupied counties beyond Olza River, inhabited by Polish minority. These territories were a matter in dispute between both countries since 1918. But in situation after the Munich Poles must not take part in dismemberment of Czechoslovakia alongside Germany. It brought to them only a shame and substantially impaired their political situation while the Germans undertook next steps.

As early as in the beginning of October Joachim Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, had mentioned in a talk with the Polish ambassador the necessity to incorporate the Free City of Danzig into Germany and to build across Pomerania an extraterritorial motorway from Berlin to East Prussia. The Germans expected, that after the occupation of Transolza, Poland had finally lost credit in the West and would easily submit herself to the influence and demands coming from the Spree. Their calculations though got upset. Under the pressure of the public opinion Józef Beck had to abandon the idea of balance between both great neighbours and firmly stand against Germany. He simply had no other choice.