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Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany[1]
Treaty of Versailles, English version.jpg
Cover of the English version
Signed 28 June 1919[2]
Location Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, Paris, France[3]
Effective 10 January 1920[4]
Condition Ratification by Germany and three Principal Allied Powers.[1]

Central Powers


Allied Powers
 United States[1]
 British Empire[1]
France France[1]
 Kingdom of Italy[1]
 Empire of Japan[1]

Depositary French Government[5]
Languages French and English[5]
Treaty of Versailles at Wikisource

The Treaty of Versailles (French: 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.[6] 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 the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage" during the war (the other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles). This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. It liberated numerous nationalities in Central Europe from oppressive German rule. 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 2022). At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes predicted that the treaty was too harsh—a "Carthaginian peace", and said the figure was excessive and counterproductive. However, many historians have judged the reparation figure to be lenient, a sum that was designed to look imposing but was in fact not, that had little impact on the German economy and analyzed the treaty as a whole to be quite restrained and not as harsh as it could have been.[7]

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. The problems that arose from the treaty would lead to the Locarno Treaties, which improved relations between Germany and the other European Powers, and the renegotiation of the reparation system resulting in the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and finally the postponement of reparations at the Lausanne Conference of 1932. The reparations were finally paid off by Germany after World War II.


Map of Eastern Europe. A bold line shows the new border of Soviet Russia. The colored portion indicates the area occupied by the Central Powers.

The borders of Eastern Europe, as drawn up in Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The First World War (1914–1918) was fought in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Countries beyond the war zones were affected by the disruption of international trade, finance and diplomatic pressures from the belligerents.[8] In 1917, two revolutions occurred within the Russian Empire, which led to the collapse of the Imperial Government and the rise of the Bolshevik Party led by Vladimir Lenin.[9]

On 8 January 1918, the President of the United States Woodrow Wilson issued a statement which became known as the Fourteen Points, calling for a diplomatic end to the war, international disarmament, the withdrawal of Central Power forces from the occupied territories, the creation of a Polish state, the redrawing of Europe's borders along ethnic lines and the formation of a League of Nations to afford "mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike".[10][11]

After Operation Faustschlag on the Eastern Front, the new Soviet Government of Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the German Empire on 3 March 1918. Russia ceded Russian-Poland and the Baltic States to Germany, recognized the independence of Ukraine, and agreed to pay six billion Marks (ℳ) in reparations.[12]

In autumn 1918, the Central Powers collapsed and signed armistices while nationalist groups established successor states.[13] In Germany the army began to disintegrate, desertion increased and civilian strikes drastically reduced war production.[14][15] On the Western Front, the Allied forces launched the Hundred Days Offensive and decisively defeated the German western armies.[16] Sailors of the Imperial German Navy at Kiel mutinied, which prompted uprisings in Germany, which became known as the German Revolution.[17][18] The German Government tried to obtain a peace settlement based on the Fourteen Points and was able to negotiate an armistice beginning on 11 November, when German forces were still in France and Belgium.[19][20]

In late 1918, a Polish Government was formed and an independent Poland proclaimed. In December, Poles launched an uprising in the Province of Posen which had been under German rule since the Partitions of Poland (1772–1795). Fighting lasted until February 1919, when an armistice was signed leaving the area under Polish control but technically still German.[21] In late 1918, Allied troops entered Germany and began an occupation of the Rhineland.[22] A Peace Conference was convened in Paris to formally end the war. The Treaty of Versailles was the name given to the settlement between German Reich and the Allies; treaties with the other former Central Powers were made and named after the Paris suburbs where they were signed.[23][24]


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.[25] 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[citation needed], 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

At first A "Council of Ten" comprising two delegates each from Britain, France, the United States, Italy and Japan), met officially to decide the peace terms. It became the "Big Four" when Japan dropped out and the top person from each of the other four met in 145 closed sessions to make all the major decisions, which were later ratified by the entire assembly. Apart from Italian issues, the main conditions were determined at personal meetings among the by the leaders of the "Big Three" nations: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and American President Woodrow Wilson.

The minor nations attended a weekly "Plenary Conference" that discussed issues in a general forum but made no decisions. These members formed over 50 commissions that made various recommendations, many of which were incorporated into the final Treaty.[26][27]

French 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.” [28] 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.[29]

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 she 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.[30]

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.

British 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.[31]

American 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.[32]


Impositions on Germany


  • Article 227 charges the former German Emperor, Wilhelm II, with "supreme offence[s] against international morality and the sanctity of treaties", and that Allied and Associated Powers would "request ... the Government of the Netherlands [to] surrender to them of the ex- Emperor in order that he may be put on trial."[33]
  • Articles 228–230 of treaty note the right of the "Allied and Associated Powers to bring before military tribunals" people believe to have committed war crimes and compelled Germany to "furnish all documents and information of every kind, the production of which may be considered necessary to ensure the full knowledge of the incriminating acts, the discovery of offenders and the just appreciation of responsibility." The treaty also ensured that in all cases, the accused would have the right to choose their own consul.[34]
  • Article 231 (the so-called "War Guilt Clause") stated Germany accepted responsibility for "all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies."[35] Similar wording was used in the treaties signed by the other Central Powers, having them accept responsibility for the damage they and their allies caused.[nb 1]

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.[40]

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."[41]

  • 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.[Clarification needed]
  • 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

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)).[42]
  • 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.[43]
  • 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).[44]
  • 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 made trusteeships under the control of Belgium, Great Britain, and certain British Dominions, France, and Japan.[45]
  • In Africa, Britain and France divided German Kamerun (Cameroons) and Togoland. Belgium gained Ruanda-Urundi in northwestern German East Africa, Britain 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.[46]
  • 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[47] to Australia as mandatory.[48]

In China

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.

War Guilt and Reparations

The Treaty in section 231 laid the guilt for the war on "the aggression of Germany and her allies." This provision proved humiliating for Germany. Article 232 of the treaty noted Germany would pay "compensation for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allied and Associated Powers and to their property during the period of the belligerency". Article 233 notes that the level of compensation to be paid would "be determined by an Inter-Allied Commission". The total sum of war reparations demanded from Germany—around 226 billion Marks (ℳ)—was decided by an Inter-Allied Reparations Commission.

In January 1921, the total sum due was decided by an Inter-Allied Reparations Commission and was set at 132 billion gold marks. This figure was divided into three categories. The A Bonds amounted to 12 billion gold marks and the B bonds a further 38 billion marks, which equated to around 12.5 billion dollars "an amount smaller than what Germany had recently offered to pay"[49] Class C bonds amounted for the remaining two-thirds of the total figure and were deliberately designed to be chimerical". "Their primary function was to mislead public opinion in the receiver countries into believing that the 132-billion mark figure was being maintained."[49] Therefore, the sum Class C bonds "amounted to indefinite postponement".[50] Germany was only obliged to pay the Class A and B bonds.[51] The actual total payout from 1920 to 1931 (when payments were suspended indefinitely) was 20 billion German gold marks, worth about 5 billion US dollars or one billion British pounds. Of this amount, 12.5 billion was cash that came mostly from loans from New York bankers. The rest was goods like coal and chemicals, or from assets like railway equipment. The total amount of reparations was fixed in 1921 on the basis of the German capacity to pay, not on the basis of Allied claims. The highly publicized rhetoric of 1919 about paying for all the damages and all the veterans' benefits was irrelevant to the total, but it did affect how the recipients spent their share. Austria, Hungary, and Turkey were also supposed to pay some reparations but they were so impoverished that they in fact paid very little. Germany was the only country rich enough to pay anything; it owed reparations chiefly to France, Britain, Italy and Belgium; the US received $100 million.[51] Historian Stephen Shucker notes how the overall payment amounts to "a unilateral transfer equal to a startling 5.3 percent of German national income for 1919-31."[52]

In 1932, due to international agreement at the Lausanne Conference Germany stopped paying reparations. In 2010, Germany finished paying off loans that had been taken out during the 1920s to aid in making reparation payments.[53]

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.[54] 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"[55] 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.[56]


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

Article 246 states "Within six months ... Germany will restore to His Majesty the King of the Hedjaz the original Koran of the Caliph Othman, which was removed from Medina by the Turkish authorities and is stated to have been presented to the ex-Emperor William II." and that "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.[57]


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".[58]


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 Marshal 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."[59]

United States

After the Versailles conference Wilson claimed that "at last the world knows America as the savior of the world!"[60]

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.[61]

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—[62] 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.[63] 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.[64]

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.[65]

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.[66]

The U.S.–German Peace Treaty of 1921 was signed in Berlin on 25 August 1921, the US–Austrian Peace Treaty of 1921 was signed in Vienna on 24 August 1921, and the US–Hungarian Peace Treaty of 1921 was signed in Budapest on 29 August 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.[67]

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."[68] 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",[69] 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 honor. 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, resigned rather than sign the treaty. 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.[70]

After Scheidemann′s resignation, a new coalition government was formed under Gustav Bauer. President Friedrich Ebert knew that Germany was in an impossible position. As detested as the treaty was, he feared that the government was not in a position to reject it. With this in mind, he asked Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg if the army was capable of any meaningful resistance in the event the Allies decided to renew hostilities, which he believed would be very likely if Germany refused to sign. 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.[71]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]


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The German economy was so weak that only a small percentage of reparations was paid in hard currency.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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 reestablished and hidden
  • 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.
  • 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.

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."[72]

In his book The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard 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."[73] 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.[74] 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.[75]

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.[76]

It has been argued (for instance by historian Gerhard Weinberg in his book "A World At Arms"[77]) 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.[78]

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.[79] 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. Barnett asserts that its post-war eastern borders were safer, because the former Austrian Empire fractured after the war into smaller, weaker states, Russia was wracked by revolution and civil war, and 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.[80] 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.[81] 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".[82]

The British historian of modern Germany, Richard J. Evans, wrote that during the war the German right was committed to an annexationist program which aimed at Germany annexing most of Europe and Africa. Consequently, any peace treaty that did not leave Germany as the conqueror would be unacceptable to them.[83] 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.[83] Evans further noted that the parties of the Weimar Coalition, namely the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the social liberal German Democratic Party (DDP) and the Christian democratic Centre Party, were all equally opposed to Versailles, and it is false to claim as some historians have that opposition to Versailles also equaled opposition to the Weimar Republic.[83] Finally, Evans argued that it is untrue that Versailles caused the premature end of the Republic, instead contending that it was the Great Depression of the early 1930s that put an end to German democracy. He also argued that Versailles was not the "main cause" of National Socialism and the German economy was "only marginally influenced by the impact of reparations".[83]

Ewa Thompson points out that the Treaty allowed numerous nations in Central and Eastern Europe to liberate themselves from oppressive German rule, a fact that is often neglected by Western historiography, more interested in understanding the German point of view. In nations that found themselves free as the result of the Treaty; such as Poles or Czechs, it is seen as symbol of recognition of wrongs committed against small nations by their much larger aggressive neighbors.[84]

Regardless of modern strategic or economic analysis, resentment caused by the treaty sowed fertile psychological ground for the eventual rise of the Nazi Party.[citation needed] The German historian Detlev Peukert wrote that Versailles was far from the impossible peace that most Germans claimed it was during the interwar period, and though not without flaws was actually quite reasonable to Germany.[85] 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.[85] 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 of World War I imposed on the defeated German Reich were bound to create a nationalist backlash, and there was nothing the Allies could have done to avoid that backlash.[85] 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.[85] 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.[85]

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.[86] 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.[86] In 1926, the Polish Ministry of the Interior estimated the remaining number of Germans at fewer than 300,000.[citation needed] 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.[86]

See also


  1. Article 117 of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye: "... Austria accepts the responsibility of Austria and her Allies for causing the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Austria-Hungary and her Allies".[36] Article 161 of the Treaty of Trianon: "The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Hungary accepts the responsibility of Hungary and her allies for causing the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Austria-Hungary and her allies."[37] Article 121 of the Treaty Areas of Neuilly-sur-Seine: "Bulgaria recognises that, by joining in the war of aggression which Germany and Austria-Hungary waged against the Allied and Associated Powers, she has caused to the latter losses and sacrifices of all kinds, for which she ought to make complete reparation".[38] Article 231 of the Treaty of Sevres: "Turkey recognises that by joining in the war of aggression which Germany and Austria-Hungary waged against the Allied Powers she has caused to the latter losses and sacrifices of all kinds for which she ought to make complete reparation."[39]
  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 Treaty of Versailles Preamble
  2. Slavicek, p. 114
  3. Slavicek, p. 107
  4. Boyer, p. 153
  5. 5.0 5.1 Treaty of Versailles Signatures and Protocol
  6. Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919) with Austria; Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine with Bulgaria; Treaty of Trianon with Hungary; Treaty of Sèvres with the Ottoman Empire; Davis, Robert T., ed (2010). U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security: Chronology and Index for the 20th Century. 1. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger Security International. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-313-38385-4. 
  7. Sally Marks, "The Myths of Reparations," Central European History (1978) 11#3 pp. 231-255 in JSTOR
  8. Simkins, Jukes, Hickey, p. 9
  9. Bell, p. 19
  10. Tucker (2005a), p. 429
  11. Fourteen Points Speech
  12. Simkins, Jukes, Hickey, p. 265
  13. Beller, pp. 182-95
  14. Bessel, pp.47–8
  15. Hardach, pp. 183–4
  16. Simkins, p. 71
  17. Tucker (2005a), p. 638
  18. Schmitt, p. 101
  19. Schmitt, p. 102
  20. Weinberg, p. 8
  21. Frucht, p. 24
  22. Martel (1999), p. 18
  23. Osmanczyk, p. 1898
  24. Schmitt, p. 103
  25. Lentin, Antony (1985) [1984]. Guilt at Versailles: Lloyd George and the Pre-history of Appeasement. Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-416-41130-0. 
  26. Slavicek, pp. 40-1
  27. Venzon, p. 439
  28. Keylor, William R. (1998). The Legacy of the Great War: Peacemaking, 1919.. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin. p. 34. ISBN 0-669-41711-4. 
  29. Larousse[1]
  30. John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (Harcourt Brace and Howe, 1920) p. 34
  31. David Thomson, Europe Since Napoleon. Penguin Books. 1970, p. 605.
  32. John Milton Cooper, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (2011) pp 454-505
  33. Treaty of Versailles, Article 227
  34. Treaty of Versailles, Article 228-230
  35. Treaty of Versailles, Article 231
  40. Treaty of Versailles, Part XIV at Wikisource.
  41. Treaty of Versailles, Part V at Wikisource.
  42. Charles Ingrao; Franz A.J. Szabo (2007). The Germans and East. Purdue University Press. p. 262. ISBN 9781557534439. 
  43. Ralph Wilde (2010). International Territorial Administration: How Trusteeship and the Civilizing Mission Never Went Away. Oxford University Press. p. 111. ISBN 9780199577897. 
  44. Manfred F. Boemeke; Gerald D. Feldman; Elisabeth Glaser (1998). The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after 75 Years. Cambridge University Press. p. 302. ISBN 9780521621328. 
  45. Ruth Henig (2013). Versailles and After, 1919-1933. Routledge. p. 17. ISBN 9781134798742. 
  46. German South West Africa was the only African colony designated as a Class C mandate, meaning that the indigenous population was judged incapable of even limited self-government and the colony to be administered under the laws of the mandatory as an integral portion of its territory
  47. Australia in effective control, formally together with Britain and New Zealand
  48. Louis (1967), p. 117-130
  49. 49.0 49.1 Marks, p. 237
  50. Bell, p. 23
  51. 51.0 51.1 Sally. Marks, "The Myths of Reparations," Central European History (1978) 11#3 pp 231-55 in JSTOR
  52. Martel, p. 43
  54. Treaty of Versailles, Part I: Covenant of the League of Nations at Wikisource.
  55. Treaty of Versailles, Part XIII: Constitution of the International Labour Office at Wikisource.
  56. Treaty of Versailles, Part XII at Wikisource.
  57. Treaty of Versailles, Article 246
  58. Stevenson 1998, p. 10.
  59. R. Henig, Versailles and After: 1919–1933 (London: Routledge, 1995) p. 52.
  60. President Woodrow Wilson speaking on the League of Nations to a luncheon audience in Portland OR. 66th Cong., 1st sess. Senate Documents: Addresses of President Wilson (May–November 1919), vol.11, no. 120, p.206.
  61. Thomas A. Bailey, Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal (1945)
  62. William C. Widenor, Henry Cabot Lodge and the Search for an American Foreign Policy (1980)
  63. Ralph A. Stone, The Irreconcilables: The Fight Against the League of Nations (1970)
  64. John Milton Cooper, Jr. Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (2009) ch 22-23
  65. Duff, John B. (1968). "The Versailles Treaty and the Irish-Americans". pp. 582–598. Digital object identifier:10.2307/1891015. JSTOR 1891015. 
  66. Wimer, Kurt; Wimer, Sarah (1967). "The Harding Administration, the League of Nations, and the Separate Peace Treaty". Cambridge University Press. pp. 13–24. Digital object identifier:10.1017/S0034670500023706. JSTOR 1405810. 
  67. Bibliographical Introduction to "Diary, Reminiscences and Memories of Colonel Edward M. House"[dead link] .
  68. Foreign Minister Brockdorff-Ranzau when faced with the conditions on 7 May: "Wir kennen die Wucht des Hasses, die uns hier entgegentritt. Es wird von uns verlangt, daß wir uns als die allein Schuldigen am Krieg bekennen; ein solches Bekenntnis wäre in meinem Munde eine Lüge". 2008 School Projekt Heinrich-Heine-Gesamtschule, Düsseldorf
  69. 2008 School Projekt Heinrich-Heine-Gesamtschule, Düsseldorf
  70. Lauteinann, Geschichten in Quellen Bd. 6, S. 129.
  71. Koppel S. Pinson (1964). Modern Germany: Its History and Civilization (13th printing ed.). New York: Macmillan. p. 397 f. ISBN 0-88133-434-0. 
  72. Stevenson 1998, p. 11.
    • [[gutenberg:15776|The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes']] at Project Gutenberg
  73. Markwell, Donald (2006). John Maynard Keynes and International Relations: Economic Paths to War and Peace. Oxford University Press. 
  74. Keynes (1919). The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Ch VI.. "The Treaty includes no provisions for the economic rehabilitation of Europe—nothing to make the defeated Central Empires into good neighbors, nothing to stabilize the new States of Europe, nothing to reclaim Russia; nor does it promote in any way a compact of economic solidarity amongst the Allies themselves; no arrangement was reached at Paris for restoring the disordered finances of France and Italy, or to adjust the systems of the Old World and the New. The Council of Four paid no attention to these issues, being preoccupied with others—Clemenceau to crush the economic life of his enemy, Lloyd George to do a deal and bring home something which would pass muster for a week, the President to do nothing that was not just and right. It is an extraordinary fact that the fundamental economic problems of a Europe starving and disintegrating before their eyes, was the one question in which it was impossible to arouse the interest of the Four. Reparation was their main excursion into the economic field, and they settled it as a problem of theology, of polities, of electoral chicane, from every point of view except that of the economic future of the States whose destiny they were handling." 
  75. Hantke, Max; Spoerer, Mark (2010). "The imposed gift of Versailles: the fiscal effects of restricting the size of Germany's armed forces, 1924–9". pp. 849–864. Digital object identifier:10.1111/j.1468-0289.2009.00512.x. Archived from the original on 2009-03-06. 
  76. Reynolds, David. (February 20, 1994). "Over There, and There, and There." Review of: "A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II," by Gerhard L. Weinberg. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  77. Weinberg, Gerhard Germany, Hitler and World War II, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995 page 16.
  78. Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (London: Pan, 2002), p. 392.
  79. Barnett, p. 316.
  80. Barnett, p. 318.
  81. Barnett, p. 319.
  82. 83.0 83.1 83.2 83.3 Evans, Richard In Hitler's Shadow, New York: Panatheon 1989 page 107.
  83. The Surrogate Hegemon in Polish Postcolonial Discourse Ewa Thompson, Rice University [2]
  84. 85.0 85.1 85.2 85.3 85.4 Peukert, Detlev The Weimar Republic, New York: Hill & Wang, 1992 page 278.
  85. 86.0 86.1 86.2 La Seconde Guerre mondiale, Raymond Cartier, Paris, Larousse Paris Match, 1965, quoted in: Pater Lothar Groppe (2004-08-28). "Die "Jagd auf Deutsche" im Osten: Die Verfolgung begann nicht erst mit dem "Bromberger Blutsonntag" vor 50 Jahren" (in German). Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung / 28. August 2004. Retrieved 2010-09-22. "'Von 1.058.000 Deutschen, die noch 1921 in Posen und Westpreußen lebten', ist bei Cartier zu lesen, 'waren bis 1926 unter polnischem Druck 758.867 abgewandert. Nach weiterer Drangsal wurde das volksdeutsche Bevölkerungselement vom Warschauer Innenministerium am 15. Juli 1939 auf weniger als 300.000 Menschen geschätzt.'" 


  • Andelman, David A. (2008). A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today. New York/London: J. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-78898-0. 
  • Bell, Origins of the Second World War
  • Cooper, John Milton. Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Demarco, Neil (1987). The World This Century. London: Collins Educational. ISBN 0-00-322217-9. 
  • Herron, George D. (1924). The Defeat in the Victory. Boston: Christopher Publishing House. xvi, [4], 202 p.
  • Macmillan, Margaret (2001). Peacemakers. London: John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-5939-1. .

Also published as Macmillan, Margaret (2001). Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-76052-0. 

Further reading

  • The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment After 75 Years, Boemeke, Manfred F., Gerald D. Feldman, and Elisabeth Gläser, editors. Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 1998.

External links

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