Munich crisis 1938: Appeasement of Hitler was linked to suicides in Britain, says academic
Britain’s appeasement of Hitler caused mental health problems for people throughout the country, and was linked with a spate of suicides, according to research from a historian at the University of Sheffield. The research by Professor Julie Gottlieb, Professor of Modern History, is the first to be primarily concerned with how ordinary people responded to the Munich Crisis.
This month marks the 85th anniversary of the Munich Agreement when Britain, France, and Italy agreed that Nazi Germany could take over much of Czechoslovakia. It is also the anniversary of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s separate Anglo-German Declaration that Hitler agreed to sign expressing “the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.” Germany invaded Poland in 1939, prompting Britain to declare war. Professor Gottlieb has studied letters and diaries written by ordinary Britons at the time. Findings from the research show that the Munich crisis had a significant psychological impact on people across the UK. The fear of war also triggered an apparent epidemic of suicides.
Professor Gottlieb has highlighted how one couple’s marriage broke down under the psychological stress of the Munich crisis and fear of war in Europe. Journal Under the Terror, 1938 (1939) was written by F. L. Lucas, a Yorkshire-born writer, political commentator and voice against appeasement. The journal documents how the political crisis was mirrored in his private life with the mental breakdown of his wife Prudence, and the breakdown of their marriage.
Professor Gottlieb has since worked with the award-winning playwright Nicola Baldwin to produce a new play - The Nervous State - based on F. L. Lucas’ journal, and to help raise awareness of the pressures that a political crisis can put on people’s relationships and the impact that major world events can have on people’s mental health.
Professor Gottlieb added: “The topic of appeasement and the Munich Crisis is frequently covered in the history curriculum in schools, but mainly from a pretty traditional point of view, about great men and so-called ‘guilty men’. It is an important topic to cover, and it remains so salient, and a repeated touchstone in political discussion and debate. “Working with teachers and high school students, my team of collaborators have been really encouraged by how well they have responded to thinking about the Munich Crisis from the perspectives of history from below and history from within, and it provides a great opportunity for historical empathy.”
Following the success of The Nervous State, playwright Nicola Baldwin is further collaborating with the Sheffield historian to produce a full film based on the journal of F. L. Lucas, which is set to announce casting this month.