Munich Agreement

I’ve only recently seen the episode “Appeasement - How The West Helped Hitler Start WW22 | BETWEEN 2 WARS I 1938 Part 1 of 4” and was very sad to see no mention of the Nečas plan despite it’s crucial importance as the catalyst of the Munich Agreement as we know it. I imagine this is because the primary sources would almost exclusively be in Czech and French so allow me to elaborate.

The Nečas plan (also called the Fifth Plan, as it was the fifth attempt at solving the Sudetenland crisis) was a secret plan concocted by Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš who denied until his death it had ever existed. On 15th September 1938 (2 weeks before the Munich Conference), Beneš met with Jaromír Nečas* and handed him a handwritten note that states the following (the translation is mine, keep in mind the original is in antiquated Czech):

*Czechoslovak Minister of Social Affairs who had close contacts with the reigning French socialists from his time in Geneva.

"Mr minister Nečas

  1. Never allow for it to be said that this plan comes from Czechoslovaks.
  2. It has to be kept top secret, nothing must be publicized.
  3. It would have to be secretly agreed with France and England [sic] after exact delineation of the territory that we could cede, for there is danger that if we accept the cessation of territory in principle, they would cave to Hitler and give him everything.
  4. Then the complete plan would have to be thrusted upon Hitler alongside other concessions as our final concession.
  5. It would mean that Germany would receive thousands of kilometres of territory (I don’t know myself, it would probably be 4000-6000 km squared - don’t bind us on this) under the condition that he would accept 1 500 000-2 000 000 German citizens. This would therefore mean population transfer, where democrats, socialists, and Jews would stay with us.
  6. Other solution wouldn’t be possible, for the question of simply dividing the republic would be raised. That’s why the entire idea is extremely dangerous, and were it casually made public, it would be a catastrophe.
  7. Also beware - they might act disloyally towards you over this - one never knows.
  8. On the issue of referendum*, say they want to maneuver us into a situation where president Beneš sends several hundred thousand democrats, socialists, and Jews to a massacre like those in Austria and elsewhere, to barbarism of antisemitic murder, defamation, and concentration camps. He shall not do so. And if they truly wanted to somehow save them that they were creating another nationality problem. For once it became known that there would be a referendum, then all the democrats, socialists, Jews etc. would flee from that territory and we would have internal migration and the nationality problem wouldn’t be solved anyways. The referendum is simply technically, legally, and politically impossible. Also show on a map, how would our country’s shape look alongside the position of Germany after the referendum.
  9. Don’t say it comes from me.
  10. Don’t say anything to Osuský** and demand that no one talks to him about it.
  11. Destroy these papers***."

*meaning the solution to the Sudetenland crisis that would entail the residents voting which country they want their region to be a part of, this was one of the proposed solutions at the time which has been previously employed in other border disputes in Europe
** Štefan Osuský was the Czechoslovak ambassador to Paris
***Nečas didn’t destroy them, they were then first publicized in 1957 by J. Pachta and P. Reiman alongside two reports from Nečas’s trips to Paris and London in September 1938; note that the French translation of this note is dated to 17th September, when Nečas was already on his way to London

A video from Czech TV showing shots of the original
A blog with pictures of first 8 points of the note (you crossreference point 5) with the video above)
I used the copy published in Edvard Beneš, Paměti III, Dokumenty, p.187-188, ISBN 978-80-200-1529-7, which are Beneš’s memoirs edited by Milan Hauner in 2007, who added an extra volume of only transcriptions of various documents to the two volumes Beneš originally wrote

As you can see, the Nečas plan shows the Munich Agreement in quite a different light. Despite opposing every single border treaty proposed by the Brits and the French afterwards, the original idea actually came from Beneš himself (and once the genie was out of the bottle, his point 3) came true and the Allies eventually ceded more because Hitler declined the Nečas plan, probably smelling weakness behind the offer).

This should at least somewhat shift the discourse around the so-called Munich Betrayal, for if the president of a country commits high treason towards it (which the offer to cede territory amounted to, even if Beneš’s motives were to save the country and the lives of anti-Nazi Germans), why should someone else try to defend it and not take the easy way out provided? The Munich Agreement was principally what he asked for in the Nečas plan albeit vastly expanded. Not to mention the fact that it was Beneš who counseled the Czechoslovak government to accept the not-Munich-yet-treaty from the 21st September 1938 (after which the government fell and which in any case was unconstitutional as border changes should’ve been ratified by the parliament, which however wasn’t in session since March) and to lay down the arms after successful mobilization ordered by the following government.

Beneš held an enormously outsized role in Czechoslovak politics of 1938 as the president, founding father, and the sole architect of Czechoslovak diplomacy since its inception. Everything rested on him personally. When people ask questions like why Czechoslovaks didn’t fight after Munich, keep in mind that a very large part of that question should actually be why Beneš didn’t want to fight.

On the topic of the French not honouring their military guarantees to Czechoslovakia, here’s an encrypted telegram ambassador Osuský sent to Beneš on 22nd September 1938 about the French willingness to fight to which Beneš replied the day after (translation mine):

“Top secret - only for Mr president dr. Beneš.
At 16:00 Reynaud, Mandel, and Champetier de Ribes* met with Daladier**. They laid before him that his government was formed to defend treaties. This policy has failed terribly since 10th September. Bonnet*** personally led a campaign against it in the newspapers funded by the government. On 19th September, a question was reserved at the council of ministers about the French course of action in case Czechoslovakia doesn’t accept the deal****. Ministers were asking, why was this not upheld. Daladier responded, that Beneš himself demanded an ultimatum to cover himself. Ministers demanded he [Daladier] said so publicly, to cleanse France from accusations of betrayal of Czechoslovakia. Daladier responded that they would then kill president Beneš. Ministers responded that France was willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of men. Daladier said he would think about it. Please allow me to immediately tell Daladier and the three ministers that what they ascribe to president Beneš is the most vulgar of calomnies*****.
Daladier then told the ministers that he telegraphed Chamberlain****** that if Germany attacked Czechoslovakia, France would go to war. Today France is united [on this issue], whereas just three days ago it wasn’t. Daladier doesn’t consider the risk of war to be over. Finally the ministers told Daladier that Bonnet had on his conscience such grave responsibility that they felt obliged to let him know their contempt. Daladier pleaded for them to not hand in their resignations, for it could lead to war today. But to allow him [Daladier] to fire Bonnet, they did leave their portfolios at his disposal.

*French Ministers of Finance, Colonies, and Veterans respectively
**French Prime Minister
***French Foreign Minister, a staunch appeaser (not trying to editorialize but the sentence can be a bit hard to understand otherwise)
****The French-British deal from the 19th was for Czechoslovakia to cede territory with over 50% German population, either directly or through a referendum
*****Reminder that Osuský was explicitly left out of the loop on the Nečas plan, so in his mind, he was defending his president’s honor against false accusations here
******British Prime Minister

Translated from Hauner 2007 (see above), p.217-218