44 Days in Prague
The Runciman Mission and the Race to Save Europe
The dramatic story of a last-ditch attempt to avert catastrophe in Europe, on the eve of the Second World War.
After discovering that her grandmother had pro-German sympathies, Ann Shukman resolved to investigate her grandfather Walter Runciman’s 1938 Mission to Prague. This government-sponsored British delegation sought to broker peace between the Czechoslovak republic and its Sudeten German minority—a dispute that Hitler was aggravating with virulent anti-Czech propaganda and threats of invasion.
Drawing fresh evidence from personal diaries, private papers and Czech publications, 44 Days in Prague exposes the misunderstandings and official ignorance that provoked a calamitous series of betrayals. It reveals that, while Walter Runciman always supported Czechoslovakia’s integrity, his wife Hilda—whose role became crucial—publicly favoured the German cause.
This is a moving portrayal of Walter’s declining influence as tensions mounted, from the couple’s efforts to court a divided old aristocracy at glittering social occasions, to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s fatal undermining of the Mission, in his abrupt decision to negotiate directly with Hitler. Shukman’s vivid narrative combines personal insight with meticulous research to shine new light on this pivotal yet tragic episode of European history.
‘44 Days in Prague charts the history, ambitions and ultimate failure of the Runciman Mission to Czechoslovakia in the late summer of 1938, skilfully weaving social and cultural threads into a story of high politics. A remarkable achievement.’ — David Dutton, Ramsay Muir Emeritus Professor of Twentieth Century British Political History, University of Liverpool
‘Based on family papers, new documents from the Czech archives and interviews with descendants of those who met members of the Runciman Mission in Czechoslovakia, Shukman brings this story to life and offers a delightfully vivid personal aspect. A most interesting and enjoyable book.’ — Catherine Andreyev, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford, and author of Russia Abroad: Prague and the Russian Diaspora
Ann Shukman graduated in Modern Languages from the University of Cambridge and gained her doctorate in Russian Literary Theory from the University of Oxford. She has lectured in Russian Language and Literature at the University of Birmingham and Keele University, and tutored at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford.