Prime Minister Chamberlain has long since been regarded as having succumbed to Hitler. Attempting to keep the peace, Chamberlain, along with France, in 1938 signed the Munich Agreement, allowing Nazi Germany to absorb a chunk of neighbouring Czechoslovakia, known as the Sudetenland. Europe regarded it as a victory; it had avoided the war Hitler threatened.
Chamberlain was convinced that if he dealt with Hitler in a “practical and businesslike” way, says Tim Bouverie, he could convince the Fuhrer of the efficacy of peace and bring him down a notch or two.
The absolute opposite happened, giving Hitler a taste of things to come, things he had set out to do in his book, ‘Mein Kampf’.
The New York Times went as far as to call Chamberlain “a failed leader in a time of crisis” following the move.
Many have noted that Hitler’s charisma and charm might have won Chamberlain over, along with the Prime Minister’s devotion to appeasement.
Adolf Hitler: Neville Chamberlain called the Fuhrer the ‘commonest-little dog’
Munich Agreement: Chamberlain, Hitler and other world leaders in Munich, 1938
Yet, this isn’t the case, claimed Laurence Rees, in BBC History Magazine, who said Chamberlain had little regard for Hitler.
When discussing Hitler’s knack for persuading people to come around to his way of thinking, Mr Rees said: “It is important to remember, however, that you almost always had to be predisposed to support the Nazi regime to be entranced by Hitler’s personality.
“If you were not a staunch believer, then a meeting with Hitler could leave a very different impression.
“Neville Chamberlain found Hitler unimpressive when they met in 1938 and later described him as ‘the commonest-looking little dog’ he had ever encountered.
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World War 2: This paper reports on the peace agreement being reached in 1938
“Chamberlain thought Hitler a crude and blustering rabble-rouser.”
The Prime Minister is also said to have regarded Hitler as “a gangster” and that he was “entirely undistinguished,” adding, “you would never notice him in a crowd and would take him for the house painter he once was”.
Hitler’s antipathy was equally strong – he called Chamberlain “der late Arschloch” – “the old a***hole”.
Yet while many claim the Munich Agreement was a monumental defeat for Chamberlain, others say it was in fact Hitler who became trapped.
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Downing Street: Chamberlain and his wife address crowds outside No 10 on his return from Munich
UK history: Chamberlain holds up the agreement at a press conference in Germany
In a 2017 report for The Times, historian Robert Harris said because Hitler was so hell-bent on war, he soon lost sight of what he wanted to achieve in gaining the Sudetenland.
When Chamberlain flew out to meet Hitler – no short feat at the age of 70 – the Fuhrer, Mr Harris said: “wriggled to free himself from this self-created hook.”
He explained: “He upped his demands; he imposed an unrealistic deadline; at a rally of 15,000 supporters in Berlin on the evening of September 26 he ranted and raved against the perfidy of the Prague government.
“But the gap between what he had publicly demanded from the Czechs, and what the Czechs, under pressure from Chamberlain, announced themselves willing to concede became so narrow that even such hardliners as Joseph Goebbels recognised that invasion could not be justified: ‘You cannot wage war over points of detail.’
BBC history: Laurence Rees told the magazine how Chamberlain had little regard for Hitler
“Reluctantly, the Fuhrer postponed mobilisation and agreed to talks.”
Gerhard L Weinberg, a leading scholar of the period, even went so far as to say that “Hitler had been trapped into settling for what he had publicly claimed rather than what he really wanted”.
Following the deal, Chamberlain was met on the streets of Munich with raucous applause, louder even than when the crowd welcomed the Fuhrer himself.
Hitler, of course, hated this.
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Mr Rees said that the Nazi leader complained to Benito Mussolini at the time: “That Chamberlain!
“He has haggled over every village and petty interest like a market-place stall keeper, far worse than the Czechs would have been!
“What has he got to lose in Bohemia?
What’s it to do with him? He keeps talking about fishing at weekends. I never have weekends – and I hate fishing!”