The Treaty of Versailles was an incredibly important peace agreement that essentially brought WWI to an end. It was signed at the Palace of Versailles in France (fancy or what?) on 28 June 1919 between Germany and the Allied Powers.
So, what did the Treaty actually do, you ask? Glad you want to know! Germans generally hated the Treaty, and wanted revenge on the countries that had made it sign the “dictated peace” because it very harshly forced the nation to take responsibility for starting WWI, and didn’t allow any opportunities for negotiation. By admitting this, Germany also had to agree to pay for the cost of the damage, which set the country back by around £6.6 billion in 1921.
The German government was so willing to accept the Versailles Treaty without seeing what it entailed as it believed it would be fair because it was based on US President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points. Oh, how wrong they turned out to be.
Just so you know, the compensation payments that Germany made under the terms of Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty after WWI are more commonly known as reparations. Article 231, which is better known as the War Guilt Clause, fixed the blame for the outbreak of war on Germany and its Allies, which meant that Germany could be made to pay reparations for the damage caused by the war. Many Germans objected to the reparations, since Germany had never actually surrendered in 1918, and couldn’t afford the £6.6 billion bill.
In order to prevent a similar war, Germany’s army was reduced to 100,000 men and conscription was banned. Germany had to give up its navy (it was allowed no more than six battleships, and submarines were banned), and it was also forbidden from having or making war planes or tanks for the foreseeable future.
In addition to this, the country was banned from militarising the Rhineland – the area of Germany closest to France – and the French were given Alsace and Lorraine on a silver platter. Meanwhile, Poland was handed West Prussia and Posen, and Danzig was given to the League of Nations. Belgium also cashed in, taking Eupen and Malmedy.
On top of this, Germany was forbidden from uniting with Austria in order to prevent it from starting another war (the fancy German term for this was Anschluss), which was something it desperately wanted. Germany wanted Anschluss so much, in fact, that it went on to get its own section in the Nazis’ Twenty-Five Point Programme. The same programme promised to abolish the Versailles Treaty, so you know.
So, all in all Germany lost around 10 per cent of its land area, 16 per cent of its coalfields, 50 per cent of its iron and steel production, and 12.5 per cent of its population as a result of the Treaty. This was mainly down to President Wilson, who believed that wars were caused by nationalism, and thus wanted to create new countries out of Germany to lessen the chance of this happening again. For the same reason, Germany’s overseas colonies were mostly taken by Britain and France.
Despite all these rules, France was still unhappy with the severity of the Versailles Treaty. This is because the nation was terrified by Germany’s strength, and feared a future invasion. Pretty wise, to be honest.
In addition to this, France and Belgium felt they deserved further reparations, which they needed to pay war debts owed to the US – on top of having access to German coal extracted in the Saar. This prompted France and Belgium to occupy the Rhur in protest at unpaid reparations in 1922 after Germany claimed that it could not afford to shell out for them. In occupying the Ruhr, the French immediately gained access to food and mineral wealth; the Ruhr was one of Germany’s richest industrial areas, and the French intended to take payment of reparations in food, coal, iron ore and steel.
Meanwhile, President Ebert’s government struggled to maintain political control in Germany as time went on, facing rebellions from both the right and the left in March 1920, less than a year after signing the Treaty. The same year, Dr Wolfgang Kapp led 5,000 Freikorps into Berlin and when the Army refused to fire on them it looked as if the government would fail until it was saved by a general strike. Not good.
By 1923, the German public had had enough; the severity of the Versailles Treaty prompted a general strike in Berlin after it was revealed as the cause of hyperinflation.
The Treaty of Versailles went on to become an incredibly important factor in the Nazis’ rise to power as many people believed it had been unfair to Germany. By the time Hitler had been named Chancellor in 1933, the German people had still not forgiven the Weimar government for accepting the terms of the Treaty so readily in 1919… even though it had ended WWI. I know, I know.