On this day in 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt writes to German Chancellor Adolf Hitler regarding the threat of war in Europe. The German chancellor had been threatening to invade the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and, in the letter, his second to Hitler in as many days, Roosevelt reiterated the need to find a peaceful resolution to the issue.
The previous day, FDR had written to Hitler with an appeal to negotiate with Czechoslovakia regarding Germany’s desire for the natural and industrial resources of the Sudetenland rather than resort to force. Hitler responded that Germany was entitled to the area because of the “shameful” way in which the Treaty of Versailles, which had ended World War I, had made Germany a “pariah” in the community of nations. The treaty had given the Sudetenland, a territory that was believed by Hitler and many of his supporters to be inherently German, to the state of Czechoslovakia. Therefore, Hitler reasoned, German invasion of the Sudetenland was justified, as annexation by Germany would simply mean returning the area to its cultural and historical roots. Hitler assured Roosevelt that he also desired to avoid another large-scale war in Europe.
In his letter of September 27, Roosevelt expressed relief at Hitler’s assurances but re-emphasized his desire that “negotiations [between Germany and Czechoslovakia] be continued until a peaceful settlement is found.” FDR also suggested that a conference of all nations concerned with the current conflict be convened as soon as possible. He appealed to Hitler’s ego, saying “should you agree to a solution in this peaceful manner I am convinced that hundreds of millions throughout the world would recognize your action as an outstanding historic service to all humanity.” FDR then assured Hitler that the U.S. would remain neutral regarding European politics, but that America recognized a responsibility to be involved “as part of a world of neighbors.”
In the end, Hitler ignored the international community’s pleas for a peaceful solution and invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939. The invasion was just the first in Hitler’s quest to control Europe and create a “Third Reich” of German geopolitical supremacy.