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 forced the nation to take responsibility for starting WWI. By admitting this, they also had to agree to pay for the cost of the damage, which set Germany back by around £6.6 billion in 1921.
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. Luckily for Germany, the reparations ended up having little overall effect on the economy; by the end of the 1920s, the country had been revived thanks to a series of loans doled out between 1924 and 1929, which saw Germany receive 25 billion gold marks (three times more than the reparation payments). This isn’t to say everything worked out smoothly, though; pretty much immediately after the reparations were introduced, German politics became much more right wing.
In a nutshell, this was a result of the shoddy organisation of the Reichstag (parliament); although the SDP was the largest party at the time, it refused to form coalitions and as a result, Chancellor Wilhelm Marx was forced to rely on support from the right wing DNVP to ensure acceptance of his Dawes Plan and the continued payment of reparations. The Dawes Plan was particularly significant as it renegotiated reparation payments to one billion marks a year, rising to 2.5 billion marks after five years.
Just so you know, Germany’s reparation payments were renegotiated again in 1929 as part of the Young Plan, which was a success for the League of Nations as it had involved intervening in a dispute that threatened the relations between Germany and the countries to whom reparations were due. The Young Plan reduced reparations by 75 per cent, and allowed Germany 59 years to complete payments.
But now, back to the Versailles Treaty! 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, and it was also forbidden from making war planes or tanks for the foreseeable future. In addition to this, the country was banned from stationing troops in 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, which was something it desperately wanted.
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 felt it deserved further reparations, which it 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.