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Treaty of Versailles

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Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany
Treaty of Versailles, English version.jpg
Cover of the English version
Signed 28 June 1919
Location Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France
Effective 10 January 1920
Condition Ratification by Germany and three Principal Allied Powers.

Central Powers

 German Reich

Allied Powers
France  France
 British Empire
 United States

Depositary French Government
Languages French, English
Treaty of Versailles at Wikisource

The Treaty of Versailles (French: le Traité de Versailles) was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I were dealt with in separate treaties. Although the armistice signed on 11 November 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21 October 1919, and was printed in The League of Nations Treaty Series.

Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required Germany to accept responsibility for causing the war (along with Austria and Hungary, according to the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Treaty of Trianon, respectively) and, under the terms of articles 231–248 (later known as the War Guilt clauses), to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions and pay heavy reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion Marks (then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion, roughly equivalent to US $442 billion or UK £284 billion in 2013), a sum that many economists at the time, notably John Maynard Keynes, deemed to be excessive and counterproductive. The argument by Keynes that the terms were too harsh—a " Carthaginian peace"—convinced many British and American leaders, but left the French unmoved.

The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left none contented: Germany was not pacified or conciliated, nor permanently weakened. This would prove to be a factor leading to World War II.


Negotiations between the Allied powers started on 18 January in the Salle de l'Horloge at the French Foreign Ministry, on the Quai d'Orsay in Paris. Initially, 70 delegates of 27 nations participated in the negotiations. Having been defeated, Germany, Austria, and Hungary were excluded from the negotiations. Russia was also excluded because it had negotiated a separate peace with Germany in 1918, in which Germany gained a large fraction of Russia's land and resources. The treaty′s terms were extremely harsh, as the negotiators at Versailles later pointed out.

Signing in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles

Until March 1919, the most important role for negotiating the extremely complex and difficult terms of the peace fell to the regular meetings of the "Council of Ten", which comprised the heads of government and foreign ministers of the five major victors (the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Italy, and Japan). As this unusual body proved too unwieldy and formal for effective decision-making, Japan and—for most of the remaining conference—the foreign ministers left the main meetings, so that only the "Big Four" remained. After his territorial claims to Fiume (today Rijeka) were rejected, Italian Prime Minister, Vittorio Orlando left the negotiations and only returned to sign in June.

The final conditions were determined by the leaders of the "Big Three" nations: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and American President Woodrow Wilson. Even with this smaller group it was difficult to decide on a common position because their aims conflicted with one another. The result has been called the "unhappy compromise".

France's aims

As the only major allied power sharing a land border with Germany, France was chiefly concerned with weakening Germany as much as possible. The French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau described France's position best by telling Wilson: “America is far away, protected by the ocean. Not even Napoleon himself could touch England. You are both sheltered; we are not” Clemenceau wished to bring the French border to the Rhine or to create a buffer state in Rhineland but this demand was not met by the treaty. Instead France obtained the demilitarization of the Rhineland, a mandate over the Saar and promises of Anglo-American support in case of a new German aggression, but the United States did not ratify the treaty.

Keynes argued,

"So far as possible, therefore, it was the policy of France to set the clock back and undo what, since 1870, the progress of Germany had accomplished. By loss of territory and other measures her population was to be curtailed; but chiefly the economic system, upon which the depended for her new strength, the vast fabric built upon iron, coal, and transport must be destroyed. If France could seize, even in part, what Germany was compelled to drop, the inequality of strength between the two rivals for European hegemony might be remedied for generations."

France, which suffered much damage and the heaviest human losses among allies, was adamant on the payment of reparations. The failure of the Weimar Republic to pay reparations led to the Occupation of the Ruhr by French and Belgian forces.

Britain's aims

Britain had suffered little land devastation during the war and Prime Minister David Lloyd George supported reparations to a lesser extent than the French. Britain began to look on a restored Germany as an important trading partner and worried about the effect of reparations on the British economy. Lloyd George was also worried by Woodrow Wilson′s proposal for " self-determination" and, like the French, wanted to preserve his own nation's empire. Like the French, Lloyd George supported secret treaties and naval blockades. Lloyd George managed to increase the overall reparations payment and Britain's share by demanding compensation for the huge number of widows, orphans, and men left unable to work as a result of war injuries.

United States' aims

Before the end of the war, President Woodrow Wilson put forward his Fourteen Points, which represented the liberal position at the Conference and helped shape world opinion. Wilson was concerned with rebuilding the European economy, encouraging self-determination, promoting free trade, creating appropriate mandates for former colonies, and above all, creating a powerful League of Nations that would ensure the peace. He opposed harsh treatment of Germany but was outmaneuvered by Britain and France, He brought along top intellectuals as advisors, but his refusal to include prominent Republicans in the American delegation made his efforts partisan and risked political defeat at home.


Impositions on Germany

Legal restrictions

  • Article 227 charges the former German Emperor, Wilhelm II, with supreme offense against international morality. He is to be tried as a war criminal.
  • Articles 228–230 tries many other Germans as war criminals.
  • Article 231 (the "War Guilt Clause") lays sole responsibility for the war on Germany and her allies, which is to be accountable for all damage to civilian populations of the Allies.

Occupation of the Rhineland

As a guarantee of compliance by Germany, Part XIV of the Treaty provided that the Rhineland would be occupied by Allied troops for a period of 15 years.

Military restrictions

Part V of the treaty begins with the preamble, "In order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of the armaments of all nations, Germany undertakes strictly to observe the military, naval and air clauses which follow."

  • German armed forces will number no more than 100,000 troops, and conscription will be abolished.
  • Enlisted men will be retained for at least 12 years; officers to be retained for at least 25 years.
  • German naval forces will be limited to 15,000 men, six battleships (no more than 10,000 tons displacement each), six cruisers (no more than 6,000 tons displacement each), 12 destroyers (no more than 800 tons displacement each) and 12 torpedo boats (no more than 200 tons displacement each). No submarines are to be included.
  • The import and export of weapons is prohibited.
  • Poison gas, armed aircraft, tanks and armoured cars are prohibited.
  • Blockades on ships are prohibited.
  • Restrictions on the manufacture of machine guns (e.g. the Maxim machine gun) and rifles (e.g. Gewehr 98 rifles).
  • German armed forces were prohibited from entering or fortifying any part of German territory west of the Rhine or within 50 kilometres east of the Rhine.

Territorial changes

Germany after Versailles:
  Administered by the League of Nations
  Annexed by neighbouring countries
Borders of Europe after the Treaty of Versailles

Germany′s borders in 1919 had been established nearly 50 years earlier, at the country′s official establishment in 1871. Territory and cities in the region had changed hands repeatedly for centuries, including at various times being owned by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kingdom of Sweden, Kingdom of Poland, and Kingdom of Lithuania. However, Germany laid claim to lands and cities that it viewed as historically "Germanic" centuries before Germany′s establishment as a country in 1871. Other countries disputed Germany′s claim to this territory. In the peace treaty, Germany agreed to return disputed lands and cities to various countries.

Germany was compelled to yield control of its colonies, and would also lose a number of European territories. Most of the province of West Prussia would be ceded to the restored Poland, thereby granting it access to the Baltic Sea via the " Polish Corridor" which Prussia had annexed in the Partitions of Poland. This turned East Prussia into an exclave, separated from mainland Germany.

  • Alsace and much of Lorraine—both originally German-speaking territories—were part of France, having been annexed by France′s King Louis XIV who desired the Rhine as a "natural border". After approximately 200 years of French rule, Alsace and the German-speaking part of Lorraine were ceded to Germany in 1871 under the Treaty of Frankfurt. In 1919, both regions were returned to France.
  • Northern Schleswig was returned to Denmark following a plebiscite on February 14, 1920 (area 3,984 km2 (1,538 sq mi), 163,600 inhabitants (1920)). Central Schleswig, including the city of Flensburg, opted to remain German in a separate referendum on 14 March 1920.
  • Most of the Prussian provinces of Province of Posen (now Poznan) and of West Prussia which Prussia had annexed in the Partitions of Poland (1772–1795) were ceded to Poland (area 53,800 km2 (20,800 sq mi), 4,224,000 inhabitants (1931)) without a plebiscite. Most of the Province of Posen had already come under Polish control during the Greater Poland Uprising of 1918–1919.
  • The Hultschin area of Upper Silesia was transferred to Czechoslovakia (area 316 km2 (122 sq mi) or 333 km2 (129 sq mi), 49,000 inhabitants) without a plebiscite.
  • The eastern part of Upper Silesia was assigned to Poland, as in the Upper Silesia plebiscite inhabitants of about 45% of communities voted for this (with general results of 717,122 votes being cast for Germany and 483,514 for Poland).
  • The area of Eupen-Malmedy was given to Belgium. An opportunity was given to the population to "protest" against the transfer by signing a register, which gathered few signatures. The Vennbahn railway was also transferred to Belgium.
  • The area of Soldau in East Prussia, an important railway junction on the Warsaw Danzig route, was transferred to Poland without a plebiscite (area 492 km2 (190 sq mi)).
  • The northern part of East Prussia known as the "Memelland" or Memel Territory was placed under the control of France and was later annexed by Lithuania.
  • From the eastern part of West Prussia and the southern part of East Prussia, after the East Prussian plebiscite a small area was ceded to Poland.
  • The Territory of the Saar Basin was to be under the control of the League of Nations for 15 years, after which a plebiscite between France and Germany, was to decide to which country it would belong. During this time, coal would be sent to France. The region was then called the Saargebiet (German: "Saar Area") and was formed from southern parts of the German Rhine Province and western parts of the Bavarian Palatinate under the "Saar statute" of the Versailles Treaty of 28. 6. 1919 (Article 45–50).
  • The strategically important port of Danzig with the delta of the Vistula River on the Baltic Sea was separated from Germany as the Freie Stadt Danzig (Free City of Danzig).
  • Austria (see the Republic of German Austria) was forbidden from integrating with/into Germany.
  • In article 22, German colonies were divided between Belgium, Great Britain, and certain British Dominions, France, and Japan with the determination not to see any of them returned to Germany — a guarantee secured by Article 119.
  • In Africa, Britain and France divided German Kamerun (Cameroons) and Togoland. Belgium gained Ruanda-Urundi in northwestern German East Africa, the United Kingdom obtained by far the greater landmass of this colony, thus gaining the "missing link" in the chain of British possessions stretching from South Africa to Egypt (Cape to Cairo), Portugal received the Kionga Triangle, a sliver of German East Africa. German South West Africa was mandated to the Union of South Africa.
  • In the Pacific, Japan gained Germany’s islands north of the equator (the Marshall Islands, the Carolines, the Marianas, the Palau Islands) and Kiautschou in China. German Samoa was assigned to New Zealand; German New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and Nauru to Australia as mandatory.
  • In exchange for joining the Allied Powers in World War I, Kingdom of Italy was promised by Triple Entente to be granted several territories including former Austrian Littoral, western parts of former Duchy of Carniola, Northern Dalmatia and notably Zadar (Zara), Šibenik (Sebenico), and most of the Dalmatian islands (except Krk and Rab), according to the secret London Pact of 1915. After the compromise was nullified under pressure of President Woodrow Wilson with the Treaty of Versailles which made void Italian claims on Northern Dalmatia, Italy annexed territories that included not only ethnically mixed ones, but also exclusively ethnic Slovene and Croatian ones, especially within the former Austrian Littoral and the former Duchy of Carniola. They included 1/3 of the entire territory inhabited by Slovenes at the time and 1/4 of the entire Slovene population, who was during the 20 years long period of Italian Fascism (1922-1943) subjected to forced Italianization alongside with 25,000 ethnic Germans. According to author Paul N. Hehn, "the treaty left half a million Slavs inside Italy, while only a few hundred Italians in the fledgling Yugoslav (i.e. Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes renamed "Yugoslavia" in 1929) state".

Shandong problem

Japanese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference 1919

Article 156 of the treaty transferred German concessions in Shandong, China, to Japan rather than returning sovereign authority to China. Chinese outrage over this provision led to demonstrations and a cultural movement known as the May Fourth Movement and influenced China not to sign the treaty. China declared the end of its war against Germany in September 1919 and signed a separate treaty with Germany in 1921.


Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles assigned blame for the war to Germany; much of the rest of the Treaty set out the reparations that Germany would pay to the Allies.

The total sum of war reparations demanded from Germany—around 226 billion Marks (ℳ)—was decided by an Inter-Allied Reparations Commission. In 1921, it was reduced to ℳ 132 billion, at that time, $31.4 billion (US $442 billion in 2013), or £6.6 billion (UK £284 billion in 2013).

It could be seen that the Versailles reparation impositions were partly a reply to the reparations placed upon France by Germany through the 1871 Treaty of Frankfurt signed after the Franco-Prussian War; critics of the Treaty argued that France had been able to pay the reparations (5 billion francs) within three years while the Young Plan of 1929 estimated that German reparations would be paid for a further 59 years, until 1988. Indemnities of the Treaty of Frankfurt were in turn calculated, on the basis of population, as the precise equivalent of the indemnities imposed by Napoleon I on Prussia in 1807.

The Versailles Reparations came in a variety of forms, including coal, steel, intellectual property (e.g. the trademark for Aspirin) and agricultural products, in no small part because currency reparations of that order of magnitude would lead to hyperinflation, as actually occurred in post-war Germany (see 1920s German inflation), thus decreasing the benefits to France and Britain.

Reparations due in the form of coal played a big part in punishing Germany. The Treaty of Versailles declared that Germany was responsible for the destruction of coal mines in Northern France, parts of Belgium, and parts of Italy. Therefore, France was awarded full possession of Germany′s coal-bearing Saar basin for a period. Also, Germany was forced to provide France, Belgium, and Italy with millions of tons of coal for 10 years. However, under the control of Adolf Hitler, Germany stopped outstanding deliveries of coal within a few years, thus violating the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

Germany finally finished paying its reparations in 2010.

The creation of international organizations

Part I of the treaty was the Covenant of the League of Nations which provided for the creation of the League of Nations, an organization intended to arbitrate international disputes and thereby avoid future wars. Part XIII organized the establishment of the International Labour Organization, to promote "the regulation of the hours of work, including the establishment of a maximum working day and week; the regulation of the labour supply; the prevention of unemployment; the provision of an adequate living wage; the protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment; the protection of children, young persons and women; provision for old age and injury; protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own; recognition of the principle of freedom of association; the organization of vocational and technical education and other measures" Further international commissions were to be set up, according to Part XII, to administer control over the Elbe, the Oder, the Niemen (Russstrom-Memel-Niemen) and the Danube rivers.


The Treaty contained many other provisions (economic issues, transportation, etc.). One of the provisions was the following:

ARTICLE 246. Within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, ... Germany will hand over to His Britannic Majesty's Government the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa which was removed from the Protectorate of German East Africa and taken to Germany.


Among the allies


British officials at the conference declared French policy to be "greedy" and vindictive, with Ramsay MacDonald later announcing, after Hitler's re-militarisation of the Rhineland in 1936, that he was "pleased" that the Treaty was "vanishing", expressing his hope that the French had been taught a "severe lesson".


France signed the Treaty and was active in the League. Clemenceau had failed to achieve all of the demands of the French people, and he was voted out of office in the elections of January 1920. French major general Ferdinand Foch—who felt the restrictions on Germany were too lenient—declared (quite accurately), "This is not Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years."

United States rejects Treaty

The Republican Party—led by Henry Cabot Lodge—controlled the U.S. Senate after the election of 1918, but the Senators were divided into multiple positions on the Versailles question. It proved possible to build a majority coalition, but impossible to build a two-thirds coalition that was needed to pass a treaty.

An angry bloc of 12-18 " Irreconcilables", mostly Republicans but also representatives of the Irish and German Democrats, fiercely opposed the Treaty. One block of Democrats strongly supported the Versailles Treaty, even with reservations added by Lodge. A second group of Democrats supported the Treaty but followed Wilson in opposing any amendments or reservations. The largest bloc—led by Senator Lodge— comprised a majority of the Republicans. They wanted a treaty with reservations, especially on Article X, which involved the power of the League of Nations to make war without a vote by the U.S. Congress. All of the Irreconcilables were bitter enemies of President Wilson, and he launched a nationwide speaking tour in the summer of 1919 to refute them. However, Wilson collapsed midway with a serious stroke that effectively ruined his leadership skills.

The closest the Treaty came to passage was on November 19, 1919, as Lodge and his Republicans formed a coalition with the pro-Treaty Democrats, and were close to a two-thirds majority for a Treaty with reservations, but Wilson rejected this compromise and enough Democrats followed his lead to permanently end the chances for ratification.

Among the American public as a whole, the Irish Catholics and the German Americans were intensely opposed to the Treaty, saying it favored the British.

After Wilson's successor Warren G. Harding continued American opposition to the League of Nations, Congress passed the Knox–Porter Resolution bringing a formal end to hostilities between the U.S. and the Central Powers. It was signed into law by Harding on July 21, 1921.

House's views

Wilson's former friend Edward Mandell House, present at the negotiations, wrote in his diary on 29 June 1919:

I am leaving Paris, after eight fateful months, with conflicting emotions. Looking at the conference in retrospect, there is much to approve and yet much to regret. It is easy to say what should have been done, but more difficult to have found a way of doing it. To those who are saying that the treaty is bad and should never have been made and that it will involve Europe in infinite difficulties in its enforcement, I feel like admitting it. But I would also say in reply that empires cannot be shattered, and new states raised upon their ruins without disturbance. To create new boundaries is to create new troubles. The one follows the other. While I should have preferred a different peace, I doubt very much whether it could have been made, for the ingredients required for such a peace as I would have were lacking at Paris.

In Germany

German delegates in Versailles: Professor Dr. Walther Schücking, Reichspostminister Johannes Giesberts, Justice Minister Dr. Otto Landsberg, Foreign Minister Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau, Prussian State President Robert Leinert, and financial advisor Dr. Carl Melchior.

On April 29, the German delegation under the leadership of the Foreign Minister Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau arrived in Versailles. On May 7, when faced with the conditions dictated by the victors, including the so-called " War Guilt Clause", von Brockdorff-Rantzau replied to Clemenceau, Wilson and Lloyd George: "We know the full brunt of hate that confronts us here. You demand from us to confess we were the only guilty party of war; such a confession in my mouth would be a lie." Because Germany was not allowed to take part in the negotiations, the German government issued a protest against what it considered to be unfair demands, and a "violation of honour", soon afterward withdrawing from the proceedings of peace conference.

Germans of all political shades denounced the treaty—particularly the provision that blamed Germany for starting the war—as an insult to the nation's honour. They referred to the treaty as "the Diktat" since its terms were presented to Germany on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Germany′s first democratically elected Chancellor— Philipp Scheidemann—refused to sign the treaty and resigned. In a passionate speech before the National Assembly on March 21, 1919, he called the treaty a "murderous plan" and exclaimed,

Which hand, trying to put us in chains like these, would not wither? The treaty is unacceptable.

After Scheidemann′s resignation, a new coalition government was formed under Gustav Bauer. President Friedrich Ebert then asked Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg if the army was capable of any meaningful resistance in the event the Allies decided to renew hostilities. If there was even the slightest chance that the army could hold out, Ebert intended to recommend against ratifying the treaty. Hindenburg—after prodding from his chief of staff, Wilhelm Groener—concluded the army′s position was untenable. However, rather than inform Ebert himself, he had Groener cable the army′s recommendation to the government. Upon receiving this, the new government recommended signing the treaty. The National Assembly voted in favour of signing the treaty by 237 to 138, with five abstentions. Foreign minister Hermann Müller and colonial minister Johannes Bell traveled to Versailles to sign the treaty on behalf of Germany. The treaty was signed on June 28, 1919 and ratified by the National Assembly on July 9 by a vote of 209 to 116.

Demonstration against the Treaty in front of the Reichstag.

Conservatives, nationalists and ex-military leaders condemned the peace and democratic Weimar politicians, socialists, communists, and Jews were viewed by them with suspicion, due to their supposed extra-national loyalties. It was rumored that the Jews had not supported the war and had played a role in selling out Germany to its enemies. Those who seemed to benefit from a weakened Germany, and the newly formed Weimar Republic, were regarded as having "stabbed Germany in the back" on the home front, by either opposing German nationalism, instigating unrest and strikes in the critical military industries or profiteering. These theories were given credence by the fact that when Germany surrendered in November 1918, its armies were still on French and Belgian territory. Furthermore, on the Eastern Front, Germany had already won the war against Russia and concluded the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In the West, Germany had seemed to have come close to winning the war with the Spring Offensive earlier in 1918. Its failure was blamed on strikes in the arms industry at a critical moment of the offensive, leaving soldiers with an inadequate supply of materiel. The strikes were regarded by nationalists as having been instigated by traitors, with the Jews taking most of the blame.


The German economy was so weak that only a small percentage of reparations was paid in hard currency. Nonetheless, even the payment of this small percentage of the original reparations (132 billion gold marks) still placed a significant burden on the German economy. Although the causes of the devastating post-war hyperinflation are complex and disputed, Germans blamed the near-collapse of their economy on the Treaty, and some economists estimated that the reparations accounted for as much as one-third of the hyper-inflation.

In March 1921, French and Belgian troops occupied Duisburg, which formed part of the demilitarized Rhineland, according to the Treaty of Versailles. In January 1923, French and Belgian forces occupied the rest of the Ruhr area as a reprisal after Germany failed to fulfill reparation payments demanded by the Versailles Treaty. The German government answered with "passive resistance", which meant that coal miners and railway workers refused to obey any instructions by the occupation forces. Production and transportation came to a standstill, but the financial consequences contributed to German hyperinflation and completely ruined public finances in Germany. Consequently, passive resistance was called off in late 1923. The end of passive resistance in the Ruhr allowed Germany to undertake a currency reform and to negotiate the Dawes Plan, which led to the withdrawal of French and Belgian troops from the Ruhr Area in 1925.

Some significant violations (or avoidances) of the provisions of the Treaty were:

  • In 1919, the dissolution of the General Staff appeared to happen; however, the core of the General Staff was hidden within another organization, the Truppenamt, where it rewrote all Heer (Army) and Luftstreitkräfte (Air Force) doctrinal and training materials based on the experience of World War I.
  • On April 16, 1922, representatives of the governments of Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Rapallo Treaty at a World Economic Conference at Genoa in Italy. The treaty re-established diplomatic relations, renounced financial claims on each other and pledged future cooperation.
  • In 1932, the German government announced it would no longer adhere to the treaty's military limitations, citing the Allies' violation of the treaty by failing to initiate military limitations on themselves as called for in the preamble of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles.
  • In March 1935, under the government of Adolf Hitler, Germany violated the Treaty of Versailles by introducing compulsory military conscription in Germany and rebuilding the armed forces. This included a new Navy ( Kriegsmarine), the first full armored divisions ( Panzerwaffe), and an Air Force (Luftwaffe).
  • In June 1935, Great Britain effectively withdrew from the treaty with the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement.
  • In March 1936, Germany violated the treaty by reoccupying the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland.
  • In March 1938, Germany violated the treaty by annexing Austria in the Anschluss.
  • In September 1938, Germany, with the approval of France, Britain, and Italy, violated the Treaty by annexing the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia.
  • In March 1939, Germany violated the treaty by occupying the rest of Czechoslovakia.
  • On 1 September 1939, Germany violated the treaty by invading Poland, thus initiating World War II in Europe.

Historical assessments

According to David Stevenson, since the opening of French archives, most commentators have remarked on French restraint and reasonableness at the conference, though Stevenson notes that "[t]he jury is still out", and that "there have been signs that the pendulum of judgement is swinging back the other way."

In his book The Economic Consequences of the Peace, Keynes referred to the Treaty of Versailles as a " Carthaginian peace", a misguided attempt to destroy Germany on behalf of French revanchism, rather than to follow the fairer principles for a lasting peace set out in President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which Germany had accepted at the armistice. He stated: "I believe that the campaign for securing out of Germany the general costs of the war was one of the most serious acts of political unwisdom for which our statesmen have ever been responsible." Keynes had been the principal representative of the British Treasury at the Paris Peace Conference, and used in his passionate book arguments that he and others (including some US officials) had used at Paris. He believed the sums being asked of Germany in reparations were many times more than it was possible for Germany to pay, and that these would produce drastic instability.

French economist Étienne Mantoux disputed that analysis. During the 1940s, Mantoux wrote a posthumously published book titled "The Carthaginian Peace, or the Economic Consequences of Mr. Keynes" in an attempt to rebut Keynes' claims. More recently economists have argued that the restriction of Germany to a small army saved it so much money it could afford the reparations payments.

More recently, it has been argued (for instance by historian Gerhard Weinberg in his book "A World At Arms") that the treaty was in fact quite advantageous to Germany. The Bismarckian Reich was maintained as a political unit instead of being broken up, and Germany largely escaped post-war military occupation (in contrast to the situation following World War II.) In a 1995 essay, Weinberg noted that with the disappearance of Austria-Hungary and with Russia withdrawn from Europe, that Germany was now the dominant power in Eastern Europe. Weinberg wrote that given that a mere 21 years after Versailles, Germany had conquered more land than she had in 1914, it is very questionable whatever Versailles was as anything harsh and crippling as Germans at the time and since claimed it was. Writing in 1995, Weinberg further added against the idea that territorial losses Germany suffered in 1919 brought about the Third Reich in 1933, commenting if that was the case, then the even greater territorial losses Germany suffered after 1945 should have brought about a Fourth Reich. Weinberg sarcastically commented that those who claimed that territorial losses Germany suffered in 1919 caused National Socialism have never explained why — the even greater territorial losses Germany suffered in 1945 did not bring about a return of the Nazis, as logic would dictate if it were true.

The British military historian Correlli Barnett claimed that the Treaty of Versailles was "extremely lenient in comparison with the peace terms that Germany herself, when she was expecting to win the war, had had in mind to impose on the Allies". Furthermore, he claimed, it was "hardly a slap on the wrist" when contrasted with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that Germany had imposed on a defeated Russia in March 1918, which had taken away a third of Russia's population (albeit of non-Russian ethnicity), one-half of Russia's industrial undertakings and nine-tenths of Russia's coal mines, coupled with an indemnity of six billion Marks. Eventually, even under the "cruel" terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany′s economy had been restored to its pre-war status.

Barnett also claims that, in strategic terms, Germany was in fact in a superior position following the Treaty than she had been in 1914. Germany′s eastern frontiers faced Russia and Austria, who had both in the past balanced German power. But Barnett asserts that, because the Austrian empire fractured after the war into smaller, weaker states and Russia was wracked by revolution and civil war, the newly restored Poland was no match for even a defeated Germany. In the West, Germany was balanced only by France and Belgium, both of which were smaller in population and less economically vibrant than Germany. Barnett concludes by saying that instead of weakening Germany, the Treaty "much enhanced" German power. Britain and France should have (according to Barnett) "divided and permanently weakened" Germany by undoing Bismarck's work and partitioning Germany into smaller, weaker states so it could never have disrupted the peace of Europe again. By failing to do this and therefore not solving the problem of German power and restoring the equilibrium of Europe, Britain "had failed in her main purpose in taking part in the Great War".

The British historian of modern Germany, Richard J. Evans, wrote that the German right was committed to an annexationist program of Germany annexing most of Europe and Africa during the war and in some cases before 1914 would have found any peace treaty that did not leave Germany as the conqueror unacceptable to them. Short of allowing Germany to keep all the conquests of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Evans argued that there was nothing that could have been done to persuade the German right to accept Versailles. Evans further noted that parties of the "Weimar coalition", namely the SPD, the DDP and the Catholic Centre were all equally opposed to Versailles, and it is false to claim as some historians have that opposition to Versailles also equalled opposition to the Weimar republic. Finally, Evans argued that it is untrue that Versailles caused the end of Weimar, instead contending that it was the Great Depression of the early 1930s that put an end to German democracy, and that Versailles was not the "main cause" of National Socialism and the German economy was "only marginally influenced by the impact of reparations".

Eric Hobsbawm has argued that Wilson's Fourteen Points, in particular the principle of national self-determination, were primarily anti-Left measures, designed to tame the revolutionary fever sweeping across Europe in the wake of the October Revolution and the end of the war by playing the nationalist card.

Regardless of modern strategic or economic analysis, resentment caused by the treaty sowed fertile psychological ground for the eventual rise of the Nazi party. The German historian Detlev Peukert wrote that Versailles was far from the impossible peace that most Germans claimed it was during the inter-war period, and though not without flaws was actually quite reasonable to Germany. Rather, Peukert argued that it was widely believed in Germany that Versailles was a totally unreasonable treaty, and it was this "perception" rather than the "reality" of the Versailles treaty that mattered. Peukert noted that because of the "millenarian hopes" created in Germany during World War I when for a time it appeared that Germany was on the verge of conquering all of Europe, any peace treaty the Allies imposed on the defeated Reich were bound to create a nationalist backlash, and there was nothing the Allies could have done to avoid that backlash. Having noted that much, Peukert commented that the policy of rapprochement with the Western powers that Gustav Stresemann carried out between 1923 and 1929 were constructive policies that might have allowed Germany to play a more positive role in Europe, and that it was not true that German democracy was doomed to die in 1919 because of Versailles. Finally, Peukert argued that it was the Great Depression and the turn to a nationalist policy of autarky within Germany at the same time that finished off the Weimar Republic, not the Treaty of Versailles. Indeed, on Nazi Germany's rise to power, Adolf Hitler resolved to overturn the remaining military and territorial provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. Military buildup began almost immediately in direct defiance of the Treaty, which, by then, had been destroyed by Hitler in front of a cheering crowd. "It was this treaty which caused a chain reaction leading to World War II," claimed historian Dan Rowling (1951). Various references to the treaty are found in many of Hitler's speeches and in pre-war Nazi propaganda.

French historian Raymond Cartier states that millions of Germans in the Sudetenland and in Posen-West Prussia were placed under foreign rule in a hostile environment, where harassment and violation of rights by authorities are documented. Cartier asserts that, out of 1,058,000 Germans in Posen-West Prussia in 1921, 758,867 fled their homelands within five years due to Polish harassment. In 1926, the Polish Ministry of the Interior estimated the remaining number of Germans at less than 300,000. These sharpening ethnic conflicts would lead to public demands to reattach the annexed territory in 1938 and become a pretext for Hitler′s annexations of Czechoslovakia and parts of Poland.

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