Sudetenland (the coat of arms for which appears at left) is a term for the German settlement area of the Bohemian Lands (Bohemia, Moravia, and Austrian Silesia), used only sporadically before
1918. The German ethnic group in the Bohemian Lands (with approximately 3.5 million citizens) was referred to, since the early 1900s, as "Sudetendeutsche"
(Sudeten Germans). The Bohemian Lands were part of the Austrian Monarchy until 1918. From 1918 to 1938, the Sudetenland was part of Czechoslovakia. After the "Münchner Abkommen" (the Munich Agreement) in 1938, the Sudetenland was the official term (1938-1945) for the Reichsgau Sudetenland. After the end of WW II,
the Sudetenland was again reintegrated into Czechoslovakia and its German ethnic group was expelled.
The first solid indication of how the Nazis would treat occupied territories came in Czechoslovakia, and the auguries were both misleading and ominous. In 1938 Hitler's
troops marched into the Czech Sudetenland; it was largely populated by Germans, who welcomed the invaders warmly. In most of the region, a carnival atmosphere
prevailed. To greet the occupying troops, whom the Czech forces had been ordered not to resist, huge Nazi flags smuggled in earlier by NSDAP party agents sprouted from buildings. Women wept or cheered at the sight of German soldiers, and garlanded them with flowers. One admirer was so carried away
by excitement that a bouquet of roses she tossed to the Führer hit him in the face as he drove by into his new domains.|
Behind these festive scenes were a few darker vignettes. A German mob in the town of Cesky Krumlov fired at the backs of retreating Czech soldiers; in other towns
shops and homes belonging to Czechs and Jews were vandalized and ransacked; a railroad station clerk was shot dead when he refused to turn his cash over to Sudeten
freebooters. In Prague, veterans of the legendary Czech legion were observed weeping. President Eduard Benes despairingly left the capital of truncated Czechoslovakia
for a self-imposed exile in England.
Even more ominous for Europe's immediate future were Hitler's words as he spoke at the Czech town of Cheb, congratulating his new subjects on their love for the
Fatherland. He grandiosely assured them that "over the greater German Reich is laid a German shield protecting it, and a German sword protecting it!"
Careful listeners noted that territory in German control for barely a day had somehow become part of the Reich, and clearly saw signs of the future in the words "greater" and "sword." As for Hitler himself, convinced that the mere threat of force could make him master of Europe, he began boldly to plot his next move.
In March 1939, German troops entered Bohemia and Moravia, the last two provinces of Czechoslovakia, and Hitler informed the world that "Czechoslovakia has ceased to
A Sudeten woman, overcome with emotion, pays homage as the Wehrmacht
enters the Sudeten border town of Cheb, October 1938. (Photo reprinted courtesy U.S. National Archives.) The original uncropped photo appears below.