Formation of Czechoslovakia

At the end of World War I, as the empire of Austria-Hungary crumbled, Czech nationalists moved to gain independence. They were led by Tomáš G. Masaryk and Eduard Beneš. In October, 1918, in Paris they formed a provisional government that was recognized by the Allied powers, and they formally declared their country's independence. Slovak nationalists chose to unite with the Czechs, and by the end of the year the republic of Czechoslovakia had been organized, with Masaryk as its first president and Beneš as foreign minister Czechoslovakia's boundaries were officially defined by the Treaty of Saint-Germain (1919), under which the nation's independence was recognized by Austria, and the Treaty of Trianon (1920), in which Slovakia was relinquished by Hungary.

In 1920 a constitution was adopted that established a parliamentary form of government. During the 1920's and early 1930's, when many governments in eastern and central Europe fell to dictators, effective democracy existed in Czechoslovakia, mainly because of the skill of many Czechoslovakian leaders and the personal prestige of Masaryk. Land reforms had eliminated social unrest, and industrial development brought relative economic prosperity.

Stability was jarred, however, by growing dissension among Czechoslovakia's ethnically mixed population. The Czechs, who made up the largest ethnic group, dominated the new republic. The Slovaks resented their subordinate status. There was also unrest among the Germ an-speaking people of the Sudetenland (an area in northern Bohemia adjoining Germany).

After Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933, he fostered discontent among the Sudeten Germans. As a result, relations between Czechoslovakia and Germany deteriorated. In 1938 Hitler demanded that the Sudetenland be ceded to Germany. Czechoslovakia, assured by various treaties of the backing of France and the Soviet Union, prepared for war. Hoping to forestall what could become a major war, France and Great Britain intervened. In 1938 French, British, Italian, and German leaders signed the Munich Agreement, under which Germany was allowed to annex the Sudetenland. The Czechs had not been invited to the conference and felt that the French and British had betrayed them in order to appease Hitler. Beneš, who had succeeded Masaryk as president in 1935, resigned in protest.

In March, 1939, Hitler's troops invaded and occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. Bohemia and Moravia were annexed to Germany; Slovakia was set up as an independent state under German protection. A war-time government-in-exile was established by Beneš in London in 1940. During World War II, the Czechoslovaks waged guerrilla warfare against the Nazi occupation forces. One act of reprisal by the Nazis was the complete destruction of the village of Lidice. The country was liberated by Soviet and American troops. 1944–45.