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Versailles Agreement - History

Versailles Agreement - History



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Versailles Agreement

The treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. The Allies negotiated the treaty among themselves for five months with negotiations beginning on January 18th, before presenting it to the Germans as a fait accompli. The treaty was harsh forcing the Germans to pay reparations and give up significant territory.



Under the terms of the ceasefire that ended the fighting, German troops withdrew from all the territory that they held in Belgium and France. The Allies also were entitled to occupy the Rhineland which they did. However, the agreement was a ceasefire and not a peace agreement. Thus the Allied leaders met in Paris to negotiate a peace agreement. The negotiations were not with the German but rather among the Allies who had somewhat differing objectives.

The French had been the most devastated by the war. Their mines had been flooded, their countryside had been one big battlefield, and their youth had been gutted, having lost 1.3 million men representing 25% of the men between the ages of 20-30. They were also the most vulnerable in case of another war(a concern that certainly proved true 20 years later). The French-led by George Clemenceau wanted three things from a peace conference, money to rebuild, a Germany that would be too weak ever to attack again and a little revenge. The British led by David Lloyd George who had not suffered nearly as much as the French and while wanted to weaken Germany wanted to make sure she was strong enough to remain an important trading partner with England. President Wilson leading the American delegation wanted a peace agreement that adhered as much as possible to the 14 Points he had outlined in his speech.

Talks began on January 18, 1919. Initially, 70 delegates from 29 nations participated in the negotiations. Quickly, however, the real negotiations took place with the big four- the leaders of France, England, and the United States, and then just the big three. The three and four men met for 145 times negotiating between themselves the treaty that the German would have to sign.

It took five months, but by June the Allies had worked out the treaty. They then demanded that the German sign the agreement. When the Germans refused the Allies threatened to resume the war, a war that the Germans were in no condition to fight. The German acquiesced, and on June 28, 1919, the Treaty was signed.

Under the Treaty's terms, Germany was forced to cede substantial territories, including Alsace-Lorraine. West Prussia was given to Poland, and the Polish "corridor to the sea" was created. The Saar, a coal-rich region, was put under French control for 15 years, and the Rhineland was to be occupied by the Allies for 15 years and then permanently demilitarized. Germany was to maintain an army no larger than 100,000 men, with no air force, and a navy of 6 ships. Germany was also forced to pay reparations of 20 billion marks. Lastly, the League of Nations was created.

The Peace of Versailles bore little resemblance to Wilson's "Fourteen Points."


Shandong Problem

The Shandong Problem or Shandong Question [a] (simplified Chinese: 山东问题 traditional Chinese: 山東問題 pinyin: Shāndōng wèntí , Japanese: 山東問題 , Santō mondai [1] ) was a dispute over Article 156 of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which dealt with the concession of the Shandong Peninsula. It was resolved in China's favor in 1922.

During the First World War (1914–18), China supported the Allies on condition that the Kiautschou Bay Leased Territory on the Shandong peninsula, which had belonged to the German Empire prior to its occupation by Japan in 1914, would be returned to China. In 1915, however, China reluctantly agreed to thirteen of Japan's original Twenty-One Demands which, among other things, acknowledged Japanese control of former German holdings. Britain and France promised Japan it could keep these holdings. In late 1918, China reaffirmed the transfer and accepted payments from Japan. Article 156 of the Treaty of Versailles transferred the territory of Kiautschou as well as the rights, titles and privileges acquired by virtue of the Sino-German treaty of 1898 to the Empire of Japan rather than return them to the Chinese administration. [2]

Despite its formal agreement to Japan's terms in 1915 and 1918, China denounced the transfer of German holdings at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, with the strong support of President Woodrow Wilson of the United States. The Chinese ambassador to France, Wellington Koo, stated that China could no more relinquish Shandong, which was the birthplace of Confucius, the greatest Chinese philosopher, than could Christians concede Jerusalem. He demanded the promised return of Shandong, but to no avail. Japan prevailed. Chinese popular outrage over Article 156 led to demonstrations on 4 May 1919 and a cultural movement known as the May Fourth Movement. As a result, Wellington Koo refused to sign the treaty.

The US, finding itself isolated by all Great Powers, agreed to the Japanese, British and French demands. The Chinese public became outraged by the eventual treaty, accusing the Chinese government of selling out, and became disappointed by Wilson's failed promises. [3]

China's refusal to sign the Treaty of Versailles necessitated a separate peace treaty with Germany in 1921. The Shandong dispute was mediated by the United States in 1922 during the Washington Naval Conference. In a victory for China, the Japanese leasehold on Shandong was returned to China in the Nine-Power Treaty. Japan, however, maintained its economic dominance of the railway and the province as a whole. [4] When its dominance in the province was threatened by the ongoing Northern Expedition to unite China in 1927–1928, Japan launched a series of military interventions, culminating in the Jinan incident conflict with Chinese Nationalist soldiers.


The League of Nations

Whereas British and French official policy followed traditional lines of territorial and colonial ambitions, combined with guarantees of military security and reparations from the defeated, American peace aims were expressed in President Woodrow Wilson's ideal of self-determination and his Fourteen Points, first put forward before Congress in January 1918 as the foundation of a just, durable peace. These included the novel concept of "A general association of nations … for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike." The Fourteen Points had been seen by Germany as an honorable way out of the war, and they were therefore central to the Allied negotiations in Paris, which finally led to the treaty as presented to the Germans, who had been excluded from the conference. The American president, who headed the U.S. delegation in person, played a leading role in getting his allies to agree on a common text. He often acted as an arbiter between their rival claims and as a moderator of their territorial and financial demands from Germany and its allies, though the British prime minister, David Lloyd George, maintained that it was he who acted as the conciliator between Wilson, the naive idealist, and French premier Georges Clemenceau, the wily realist.

Wilson's greatest personal achievement in this respect was the early acceptance of his association of nations by Britain and France, which had been reluctant to relinquish any parcel of their sovereignty to an international organization, and its elaboration into the Covenant of the League of Nations, which formed Part I of the treaty. An article in it effectively ruled out the possibility of a long war between the signatories, let alone a world war, if the European great powers, Japan, and the United States adhered to it: "Should any Member of the League resort to war in disregard of its covenants … it shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all Members of the League.…It shall be the duty of the Council in such case to recommend to the several Governments concerned what effective military, naval, or air force the Members of the League shall severally contribute to the armed forces to be used to protect the covenants of the League." The French were still unconvinced that this protected them forever against renewed attack by a demographically and economically stronger Germany, and they insisted on further guarantees of military security from Britain and the United States, which they verbally obtained in April. Since the vexed question of "making Germany pay" was to be decided later by a Reparations Commission, the way was now clear for a settlement ostensibly based on Wilson's conceptions of a "peace between equals." Indeed, contrary to general belief, derived from very effective German propaganda, there was no mention of war guilt as such in the wording (by Americans Norman Davis and John Foster Dulles) of Article 231, which was couched in purely legal terms so as to give a justification to the reparations already provided for in the clauses of the armistice.


The Treaty of Versailles, 1919 28 June 1919

After four years of devastating fighting, the First World War came to an end in 1919 in Versailles. The treaty, which represented “peace” for some and a “diktat” for others, also sowed the seeds of the Second World War, which would break out twenty years later.

Almost half a century after the proclamation of the German Empire, French President Clémenceau savoured his revenge on 28 June 1919, when the defeated German delegates signed the peace treaty in the Hall of Mirrors, in the same place where Germany had previously proclaimed its empire. The First World War was over. A Louis XV bureau had been placed in the centre of the hall beneath the emblematic painting of Louis XIV titled The King governs by himself. The session lasted 50 minutes. The solemn occasion, which was not celebrated with decorum or music, was attended by 27 delegations representing 32 powers. The four representatives of the principle allied powers were at the table: Clémenceau for France, Wilson for the USA, Lloyd George for Great Britain, and Orlando for Italy. The German delegation was composed of Müller, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and a jurist, one Doctor Bell.

Versailles during the Great War

Negotiations had proved difficult. The treaty had been drafted during a peace conference held in Paris starting on 18 January but Germany had been shut out of the deal-making, while the Allies debated the matter alone, unable to agree amongst themselves: France wanted to definitively remove the German threat and cripple the country, Great Britain wanted to preserve its status, the USA dreamed of a peaceful world with the establishment of the League of Nations, and Italy wanted to take over the territories it had been promised in 1915. The treaty was eventually presented to Germany on 7 May. It was very harsh. The counter-proposals submitted on the 29th were all rejected. Germany refused to sign. On 17 June the Allies gave Germany five days to decide or have the war resume. Germany accepted the “diktat”.

It cannot be denied that the conditions were somewhat draconian. Germany accepted responsibility for the war and lost 68,000 km² of territory, including Alsace and Lorraine, which had been annexed in 1870, and 8 million inhabitants. Part of western Prussia was given to Poland, which gained access to the sea through the famous “Polish Corridor”, and Germany agreed to pay the crushing sum of 20 billion gold marks in reparations claimed by France. In addition, it lost most of its ore and agricultural production. Its colonies were confiscated, and its military strength was crippled. Humiliated, Germany seethed for revenge. A new war, which everyone had hoped to avoid, was already blowing up on the horizon almost as soon as the German delegation receded over it.


BARON ROTHSCHILD

On November 2, Balfour sent a letter to Lionel Walter Rothschild—scion of the Rothschild family, a prominent Zionist and a friend of Chaim Weizmann—stating that: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

By the time the statement was published in British and international newspapers one week later, one of its major objectives had been rendered obsolete: Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks had gained power in Russia, and one of their first actions was to call for an immediate armistice.

Russia was out of the war, and no amount of persuasion from Zionist Jews—who, despite Britain’s belief to the contrary, had relatively little influence in Russia𠅌ould reverse the outcome.


Did the Versailles peace treaty trigger another world war?

A century ago, the Paris Peace Conference brought an end to the First World War. But was the resulting Treaty of Versailles – which was signed on 28 June 1919 in France and came into effect on 10 January 1920 – so harsh on the German people that it guaranteed a second global conflict? Here, Professor David Reynolds investigates to what extent the peace treaty contributed towards World War Two.

This competition is now closed

Published: January 7, 2020 at 11:00 am

Two quaking German delegates walked the length of the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles to sign one of the most famous, even notorious, treaties in history. “The silence is terrifying,” wrote British diplomat Harold Nicolson in his diary. “They keep their eyes fixed away from those 2,000 staring eyes… They are deathly pale.” The Paris Peace Conference had opened on 18 January 1919 in Louis XIV’s grandiose palace. The negotiations were conducted in many places across the French capital and the result was no fewer than five treaties – named after various Parisian suburbs – each with one of the defeated Central Powers. But the most consequential of these was the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, signed in the Hall of Mirrors on 28 June 1919.

For France, vengeance was sweet. “Une belle journée,” Georges Clemenceau, the French premier, declared tearfully. He told the assemblage: “We are here to sign a treaty of peace.” Both the timing and venue had been carefully calculated by the French. The start date, 18 January, was the anniversary of the day in 1871 when Wilhelm I had been proclaimed as emperor of the new German Reich in the Hall of Mirrors. This had been a deliberate act of political theatre by his chancellor, Count Otto von Bismarck, to rub French noses in the degradation of their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. And so, after victory in the Great War, the French relished their chance to repay that humiliation with interest, formally administering the Reich’s last rites in the place where it had been born.

But almost as soon as the ink was dry, participants and commentators debated Clemenceau’s verdict. Was Versailles a treaty of peace? Or did it set the stage for another great war? Were the victor powers at Paris ‘peacemakers’ – or actually ‘warmakers’?

The most celebrated indictment was delivered by the young economist John Maynard Keynes, a disillusioned member of the British delegation in Paris. His bestselling polemic, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, published in December 1919, denounced the treaty as a “Carthaginian peace” (the term deriving from the total subjugation imposed on Carthage by Rome), with a “policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation” and thereby causing “the decay of the whole civilised life of Europe”.

In 1961, in an equally celebrated book, The Origins of the Second World War, the British historian AJP Taylor asserted that “the peace of Versailles lacked moral validity from the start” and claimed that “the first war explains the second and, in fact, caused it, in so far as one event causes another”. Similarly, in 1984 the US diplomat and historian George Kennan flatly stated that the Second World War resulted from “the very silly and humiliating punitive peace imposed on Germany”.

In trying to unpack the argument that the peacemakers – deliberately or not – sowed the seeds of future conflict, we need first to remember that the fate of Germany was not the only issue on their agenda. The whole map of Europe had been ripped apart by war and revolution, bringing down four great dynastic empires – the Romanovs, Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns and Ottomans – that had ruled the centre and east of the continent for centuries. Out of the debris, nationalist politicians and their armies were already creating new states, such as Czechoslovakia, and resurrecting old states like Poland. So, the Paris conference was an attempt to clean up the mess: the peacemakers did not start with a blank slate.

Nor were the three major Allied powers of one mind. Clemenceau and the French were focused obsessively on controlling Germany, whose population was 50 per cent larger than that of France and whose economy in 1913 had been the most advanced in Europe. The British prime minister, David Lloyd George, though anxious to gain reparations from Germany, saw the German economy as vital to the recovery of Europe. He feared that too punitive a peace would feed a desire for revenge and encourage the spread of Bolshevism across the continent. US president Woodrow Wilson was more detached from European specifics: his consuming ambition was to create a League of Nations to guarantee peace and security.

The resulting peace treaty was therefore a messy compromise between the Big Three. The French recovered Alsace and Lorraine, ceded in 1871 after defeat to Prussia, but were not allowed to annex the Rhineland in perpetuity. Instead Britain and America offered a joint guarantee of French security if Germany attacked again. Wilson got his League of Nations, but on terms that seemed to open up the prospect of unlimited obligations to keep the peace without having adequate power to do so.

Poland was reinvented as a state after more than a century of partition between Germany, Russia and Austria – but its revival was bitterly resented in Berlin, not least for the ‘Polish corridor’ that gave the new state access to the Baltic Sea at the expense of separating West and East Prussia. The British warned of German revanchism, but in the face of strong Franco-American support for Polish demands, they could only mitigate the situation by making Danzig (now Gdańsk in Poland), which was then largely German in population, into a ‘free city’ rather than part of Poland.

Compromise was not only the result of disputes among the leading victor powers. It also reflected the fact that the Allies were not as strongly placed as they seemed. In fact, whatever the French hoped, 1919 was not adequate revenge for 1871. A genuine turning of the tables would have required a treaty to be forced upon Germany at its own historic heart, at Sanssouci or another of Frederick the Great’s palaces in Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. Yet this was impossible in 1919 because Germany had not been invaded, conquered and occupied. The armistice was therefore incomprehensible to millions of Germans. They became easy prey to those on the right such as Adolf Hitler who blamed it on a treacherous ‘stab in the back’ by pacifists, Bolsheviks and especially Jews. For these German rightists, 1918 was not defeat but actually a thwarted victory that had to be redeemed: that’s why Marshal Ferdinand Foch predicted darkly that Versailles was not a peace but merely an armistice for 20 years.

So, the fact that in 1919 the Allies imposed a Treaty of Versailles on Germany, not a Treaty of Potsdam, highlights the incompleteness of their victory. This became all too apparent when the US, whose economic strength and manpower had been crucial in sapping the German will to fight in 1918, pulled back from its wartime engagement in Europe. Unwilling to compromise, Wilson failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate to secure ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. Since he had tied the League and the Anglo-American guarantee of French security to the treaty, the Americans reneged on those as well. The British had no intention of underwriting France by themselves, so the guarantee lapsed, leaving the French more exposed and therefore more intransigent.

Which brings us back to Keynes and the Carthaginian peace. Was it reparations that really embittered Germans, and broke their economy? No precise bill was fixed at Paris: the Treaty of Versailles simply established the principle that Germany and its allies were responsible for the damage caused by their war of aggression (article 231), while also acknowledging in article 232 that their resources were not adequate to make “complete reparation”. Similar pairs of balancing statements were inserted in all the treaties with the defeated powers but only the Germans (for propaganda reasons) presented the reparations issue as an Allied imputation of ‘war guilt’ – a phrase never used in the treaty.

In 1921, an Allied commission meeting drew up a schedule of reparations payments for Germany of 132 billion gold marks, or about $33 billion, plus interest. This draconian headline sum was, however, largely window dressing to satisfy French and British hardliners. In practice, the amount the Allies intended to exact was about 50 billion marks over 36 years, which still seemed a huge sum.

Viewed historically, though, the reparations bill was the latest round in a Franco-German game of tit for tat. When French policymakers considered reparations in 1919, they had in mind the provisions of the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871, which Bismarck imposed on France after its devastating defeat. He, in turn, had looked back to Napoleon’s treatment of Prussia in the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807. The 1921 London Schedule of Payments imposed at most an annual burden of around 8 per cent of German national income – less than the 9–16 per cent that France paid annually in reparations after 1871. So the bill, most economic historians agree, was not financially intolerable.

The real issue was political. The Germans had not accepted defeat and had no intention of paying. For the French, conversely, extracting reparations represented a desperate attempt to secure an economic substitute for the decisive victory that the Allies had failed to win on the battlefield in 1918. In short, as one German official put it, the struggle over reparations was “the continuation of the war by other means”.

Successive Weimar governments went to great lengths to avoid paying their regular instalments of reparations. In the early 1920s, the economics ministry bought substantial amounts of foreign currency to help push down the value of the German mark and make German exports more competitive. An export boom, according to one key economic adviser, would “ruin trade with England and America, so that the creditors themselves will come to us to require modification” of the 1921 schedule.

“The goal of our entire policy must be the dismantling of the London ultimatum,” argued the German chancellor, Joseph Wirth, in 1922. He warned against attempts to balance the budget, for example by imposing a property tax, because this would show that the country’s fiscal problems were not insuperable and that money could be found for reparations – if Germans wanted to find it.

Covering this budget deficit meant printing money, which fuelled inflation, but tycoon Hugo Stinnes spoke for much of the German elite when he insisted in 1922 that “the choice had been between inflation and revolution”. It was, he said, “a question of your money or your life”. Yet inflation caused revolution of a different sort. From the autumn of 1922, price rises spiralled into hyperinflation on a scale dwarfing anywhere else in Europe.

Germany defaulted on its reparations payments, so in January 1923 the French and Belgians, following the principle of war by other means, sent in troops to occupy the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland, and extract reparations in kind by force. Spontaneous local protests escalated into a campaign of passive resistance subsidised by the German government, which spread across the whole country.

By the time a new coalition led by Gustav Stresemann called off passive resistance, the currency had been destroyed and the Ruhr was on the brink of famine. In January 1914, it took 4.2 marks to buy one US dollar a decade later, the nominal exchange rate was 4.2 trillion marks (an addition of 12 zeros). During 1923, daily employees collected their wages in baskets or wheelbarrows, often using them immediately to pay bills and buy goods because the banknotes lost value literally hour by hour. What pulled the country back from the brink was financial intervention by bankers in London and New York. In 1924, they provided funds to support a new German currency (the now worthless wartime Papiermark being replaced by the Reichsmark) and helped restructure reparations payments at a lower level, backed by an international loan. This package was known as the Dawes Plan, testimony not only to the energetic chairmanship of Charles Dawes, a Chicago banker, but also to the leading role played by US finance. Under this settlement, the Germans got the French out of the Ruhr, while France started to get reparations again from Germany.

During the 1920s, US investors became enmeshed in the German economy: the Dawes loan, floated in October 1924 by a nationwide syndicate of 400 banks and 800 bond houses, triggered a flood of US investment, followed by British and other lenders. Between 1924 and 1930, Germany borrowed nearly three times what it paid in reparations. The rest of the money was invested in German business (Ford and General Motors both bought up several automobile plants), in shares and municipal bonds – issued to pay for apartments, schools and other amenities. In short, foreign loans were being used in the same way as currency depreciation in the early 1920s – to sidestep the reparations burden and subsidise growth.

But just as currency depreciation eventually led to hyperinflation, so debt dependence became catastrophic when US loans tailed off after the Wall Street crash of 1929, destabilising the banking system just as Germany’s economy was sliding into recession. By 1932, industrial production was only 60 per cent of the 1929 figure and a third of the workforce was unemployed. Millions more were on reduced wages and much of the banking system had fallen apart. As a result of Germany’s depression, the most acute in Europe in the early 1930s, daily existence became a nightmare for the second time in less than a decade.

It’s no surprise that many Germans were ready to turn to a nationalist messiah. In the election of September 1930, the Nazi party won 18 per cent of the vote, becoming overnight the second largest party in the Reichstag. “I’ll see to it that prices remain stable,” Hitler asserted bombastically. “That’s what my stormtroopers are for.” There is “no doubt”, observes historian Jürgen von Kruedener, “that the rise of Hitler would have been unthinkable without the catastrophic effects of the Depression”.

The peacemakers made many mistakes, but they did not cause the next war. The Treaty of Versailles was a compromise document and, as a result, fell between two stools, alienating Germany without coercing it. It was also dependent on American involvement in Europe, which receded after 1919 – so that the US failed to ratify the treaty, join the league or honour the Anglo-American guarantee of French security that mattered so much in Paris.

The root problem was that Germany had not been comprehensively defeated on the battlefield. With its troops still holding a front in France and Belgium when the armistice was signed, its people were susceptible to arguments from the right that they had been robbed of victory by traitors at home. Reparations were so deeply resented, in practice and in principle, that successive Weimar governments risked economic stability in order to avoid having to pay. And when Hitler gained power, enthusiasm for his campaign to tear up the ‘Diktat’ of Versailles blinded millions of Germans to the true nature of his regime.

Little wonder that, when the Allies fought the next world war, they insisted on Germany’s “unconditional surrender,” occupied the whole of the country and held their victory conference at Pots-dam. There would not be another Treaty of Versailles.

Professor David Reynolds is professor of international history at the University of Cambridge. His most recent book, co-authored with Vladimir Pechatnov, is The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt (YUP, 2018).


Jewish History

As the warring armies of Europe neared complete exhaustion, President Woodrow Wilson, on January 1918, enunciated what was called the doctrine of the Fourteen Points. These were 14 statements upon which the world after the war should be constructed.

Britain and France, which had done most of the fighting and a great deal of the bleeding, resented Wilson’s proposal. They needed the United States — who had joined the Allies in fighting the Central Powers on April 6, 1917 — realizing that they could not win the war without fresh American troops. But they resented that Wilson had the audacity to present a treaty without their consultation. They also resented many of the Fourteen Points themselves.

Abolition of Colonialism

For instance, one of the Fourteen Points had to do, in effect, with the abolition of colonialism. Even though, idealistically, it sounds marvelous to end all empires, realistically it was deeply resented by the colonial powers. One of the things that the war was about was the struggle for empire. England was not about to dismantle the British Empire and neither was France about to give up its colonies.

What they understood by the abolition of colonies was the abolition of German colonies that those colonies should become British and French (which is what happened). However, Wilson meant no colonial empires at all.

Despite opposition, the Fourteen Points struck a responsive chord among the masses in colonial lands worldwide. They suddenly had hopes that they were now going to get their independence. When the post-war world would prove unable and unwilling to grant its wishes revolutions broke out, the repercussions of which are still echoing today.

Another of the Fourteen Points, the one that the Jewish people were most interested in, was a reference to the fact that ethnic minorities would have a right to independence and self-government. The Jews read it as an endorsement of the Balfour Declaration, which promised a Jewish national home in Palestine. Although a less-than-resounding endorsement, this was one of the reasons that Jews were nevertheless strong backers of the Fourteen Points.

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

Wilson had publicized his Fourteen Points during the war, and the Germans would have been well advised to accept them. However, they did not. They were bringing their army from the eastern front to the western one to mount a last ditch final offensive. There were Germans who felt the war could still be won.

After the offensive failed in October 1918, the Kaiser abdicated and the German government that took over sent a message to President Woodrow Wilson that they accepted the Fourteen Points, and wanted an armistice based on them. They intentionally directed their message to Wilson, not the leadership in France and England. Wilson wrote back to Germany that he would propose the matter to the Allies. He did so, but they never answered Wilson they felt it was an affront.

Finally, as the war turned very severely against the German army the Germans proposed — directly to the French — an armistice. When this armistice came to be on November 11, 1918 – “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” — written into the agreement was a vague statement that the Fourteen Points would govern the peace treaty that would later be signed. But it was a document subject to many interpretations and it certainly was not binding. However, the German army was in no condition to hold out and demand more than just this vague reference.

The hostilities ceased and a meeting was convened in January 1919 for the peace treaty. However, the Allies met by themselves without Germany present.

This peace conference took place in the magnificent French palace at Versailles, which is why it would be called the Versailles Treaty. The main negotiators of the treaty were Wilson, on behalf of the United States, Orlando on behalf of Italy, Clemenceau for France (also known as “the Little Tiger”), and David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister. Wilson would suffer a stroke while at Versailles, from which he would never recover.

His stroke had a fateful effect upon world history, because he was not able to campaign for his ideas or impose his will. In the end, the United States withdrew from the matter and entered a period of isolation from Europe. In the retrospect of history, the United States could have made the difference — economically, militarily and diplomatically – in restoring a stable Europe. Instead they left Europe to its own devices – which turned in World War Two after a break of two decades.

The British Mandate

The Treaty of Versailles established of the League of Nations, which was the precursor of the United Nations. Basically, it was meant to be a Parliament of all the sovereign nations of the world. They would get together and settle all matters by debate, arbitration, etc.

It was a marvelous idea, but it turned into a symbol of the futility of the world instead of a symbol of the hope of the world.

Despite that, the League of Nations played an important part in Jewish history in that it was given control over what were called “mandates.” There was a mandating committee whose purpose was to take away colonies from the defeated powers – Germany, Austria, the Ottoman Empire – and distribute them among the conquering powers – England, France, Belgium, Italy and to a certain extent the United States.

In order not to violate Wilson’s principle against colonialism it could not just be given away. Rather the League of Nations said that Palestine was not ready for independence. Therefore, it was given to England as a mandate, which was like a guardianship of a temporary nature. The goal was to eventually give the colony independence.

The most important thing, as far as the Jewish people were concerned, was that the mandate was given to England. If the mandate would have been given to France they could have completely ignored it. However, by giving it to England it raised the hopes of the Zionists and hopes of the Jewish people generally to soaring heights. There was never greater optimism among the Jewish people for the formation of the Jewish state by peaceful means as that existed from about 1920 to 1925.

Creating the Potential for WWII

Another major point about the Versailles Treaty was German reparations. A commission was established to set the amount to be paid, how it was going to be paid and who was going to get it.

The war had destroyed Germany’s economy. It had financed a war that was far beyond its ability to maintain. They had over $100 billion in debt by the end of the war independent of any reparations. The Versailles Treaty would force them to pay $22 billion, which by itself might have been manageable. However, when added to the $100 billion of debt incurred from war spending there was no way they could pay it.

The result was raging inflation in which the German currency and economy completed collapsed. In many respects that helped spell the doom of its post-war democratic government, the Weimar Republic, and allowed the likes of Hitler to fill the vacuum.

On top of the material suffering, Russia exported communism to Germany, and gained a very large and serious following. When we discuss the rise of the Nazis we will see that in the eyes of many the choice was between communism and Hitler. When Hitler came to power he killed or put into concentration camps all the communists he could. Those who survived either fled or turned into fascists. The same people who had marched for the red flag marched now for the swastika. The German needed to be subservient to something. In this case, they transferred their loyalties to a dictator rather than an idea.

Included in the reparations was that Germany had to relinquish great tracts of valuable territory. The fertile, soil-rich provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were given back to France. Germany had taken them away in 1871. Germany also had to give up the Saar Basin, which one of the largest coal producing areas in Europe. It was governed by the League of Nations, not France, but France got the coal.

Germany had to give up a large portion of Silesia to Poland, including what later came to be called the Polish Corridor, which was a strip of land that gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea. One of the promises Wilson had made was that an independent Poland would not be land-locked. The port they chose to give it was a German port, Danzig. Even though the majority of the corridor was Polish, Danzig was almost an entirely German city. Danzig was declared an international city – a city that belonged to no one and was governed by the League of Nations. In effect, this gave Poland access to its port. When Hitler came to power he made it a bone of contention.

The Versailles Treaty also stipulated that the eastern side of the Rhine up to a depth of 50 kilometers – the Rhineland – would be demilitarized. Germany could not maintain any forts, trenches, conduct military maneuvers or even station armed forces there. The demilitarization of the Rhineland was meant to guarantee that Germany could not mount another offensive against France. We will see that Hitler abrogated that for his cause as well.

A lot of Unhappy Customers

The Treaty of Versailles essentially made everyone angry and satisfied no one. The Germans were angry because they felt it was a deviation from the Fourteen Points and unfairly penalized them for the whole war. Even moderate Germans, such as those who represented the democratic Weimar Republic, resented it. It became a stigma. Those who signed it were marked for death – and many of them were assassinated by right-wing army officers. In post-war Germany, any political party had as the first and most important plank in its platform some statement that it would abrogate the Treaty of Versailles.

England and France felt the opposite. They thought it was too lenient it let the Germans off too easily. Instead of collecting $200 billion they settled for $38 billion, which was reduced to $22 billion. They should have taken more territory away. They should have brought Germany to its knees.

Clemenceau was a war hero and ran for President of France. His election should have been like Eisenhower’s, who later ran for the president of the United States and easily won. But Clemenceau lost the election because the French considered the treaty too lenient.

The same was true in England, where Lloyd George fell from power eventually. People resented it. And it is understandable, because when you are talking about 20 million war casualties, where every family felt it, people were out for revenge.

In short, the Treaty of Versailles not only failed to solve the problems that caused the war but ensured their perpetuation, and even created new problems.

As for the Jews, the result of the war was a tremendous uprooting and destabilization of communities, but the part of the treaty that created a mandate for the British to govern Palestine raised hopes as they had never risen before. Rabbi Kook characterized the First World War by saying, “The result of the war is that God is going to give Palestine back to the Jews.”


Army – was to be reduced to 100,000 men and no tanks were allowed
Navy – Germany was only allowed 6 ships and no submarines
Airforce – Germany was not allowed an airforce
Rhineland – The Rhineland area was to be kept free of German military personnel and weapons

Anschluss – Germany was not allowed to unite with Austria.
Land – Germany lost land to a number of other countries. Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France, Eupen and Malmedy were given to Belgium, North Schleswig was given to Denmark. Land was also taken from Germany and given to Czechoslovakia and Poland. The League of Nations took control of Germany’s colonies

This map shows the areas that Germany lost following the Treaty of Versailles


Learn about the history of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), the German's resentment for the treaty paving the way for the next war

NARRATOR: In early 1919, the victors of the Great War meet in Versailles near Paris to negotiate a peace treaty. After four years of war, they hope to decide the future of Europe and of the defeated Germany. The winners expect reparations never again should a war begin on German soil. The French Prime Minister, Clemenceau, formulates this warning most strongly.

MAURICE BOURGEOIS: "The Germans had wanted the war, they were defeated, and had to pay for it. That's the way it goes. And they have paid. As the saying goes, 'Woe to the vanquished.' We wanted revenge, and we got it."

NARRATOR: For several months, the delegates remain in Versailles, the legendary palace of King Louis XIV. The losers are summoned only to sign the peace treaty in the Hall of Mirrors. The Germans have no choice. They must accept the tough conditions. The Rhineland will remain occupied by French troops. Germany must substantially disarm, and make financial reparations. Furthermore, weapons, raw materials, and freight trains of goods are transported out of the country. One-seventh of the German Empire is partitioned. In the west, Alsace-Lorraine. In the east, Posen, West Prussia, and parts of Silesia. The greatest blow is the assignment of sole war guilt to Germany. The agreement results in angry protests.

ALFRED GROSSER: "In financial terms, the conditions were far less severe than those imposed on France by Bismarck in 1871. But the disastrous paragraph in the Versailles Treaty was the question of guilt, that it could be assigned to one party alone."

NARRATOR: The vast majority of Germans see the treaty as a disgraceful peace.

HEINZ HÖFFLING: "At school, our history teacher told us 'You and your children will suffer if you are to pay off these war debts. You will pay up to your deaths and beyond.'"

NARRATOR: Years later, it became clear that the economic blood-letting had hit Germany less hard than had been feared. But the feeling of humiliation lingered. Even among the victors there are critics of the Versailles Peace, also in France.

MAURICE COUVE DE MURVILLE: "Versailles opened the gates for the next war. It was clear that the Germans could not accept this agreement for all eternity. There was reason to fear that it would end badly."

NARRATOR: The treaty established safety rather than forging a lasting peace.


The Treaty of Versailles

Drafted in Paris and signed in June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles brought World War I to its formal conclusion. The Treaty of Versailles remained a contentious issue through the life of the republic. Right-wing nationalist groups despised it as an unfair and oppressive diktat, designed to crush and humiliate Germany. Centrist and left-wing groups showed no affection or loyalty to the Versailles treaty but they understood resistance to it was both pointless and dangerous for the German people.

Background

Convened almost immediately after the November 1918 armistice, the Paris peace conferences had a complex array of issues to consider.

Delegates to these conferences examined pre-war territorial disputes and attempted to resolve them by re-drawing Europe’s borders. They considered and evaluated movements for independence and self-determination, establishing several new sovereign nations.

They finalised the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Treaty of Saint-Germain (signed September 1919), the composition of eastern Europe in the Treaty of Neuilly (November 1919) and the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of Sevres (August 1920).

The most pressing issue in Paris, however, was what should be done about Germany.

Wilson’s Fourteen Points

One long-standing peace proposal was the Fourteen Point plan, advanced during the war by President Woodrow Wilson of the United States.

Wilson’s Fourteen Points had been on the table for almost a year, first unveiled in a speech in January 1918. It called for a reduction in armaments in all nations, the lifting of economic barriers, an end to secretive and disruptive alliances and freedom on the high seas.

Wilson’s plan also proposed measures for international negotiation and dispute resolution, facilitated by a newly formed League of Nations.

The Fourteen Points contained no specific punitive measures against Germany, other than the return of captured French and Belgian territory. For this reason, it became popular with the anti-war movement within Germany in the final months of the war.

In 1918, Wilson’s proposal was cited and praised both in the Reichstagand by the Kiel mutineers. The German government’s final decision to surrender was partly based on a belief that Wilson’s Fourteen Points would form the basis of a post-war treaty.

Allied disagreements

Wilson’s plan was not widely supported in France or Britain, however, where attitudes towards Germany were much less conciliatory.

The prevailing attitude in Paris and London was that Germany had been chiefly, if not entirely responsible for the outbreak of the war. For that, many argued, Germany should be held accountable and punished.

These Allied states also called for a reduction in Germany’s ability to make war by dismantling or reducing her military and industrial sectors. The push to castrate Germany’s military capacity came chiefly from the French, who had the most to fear from its eastern neighbour.

At the Paris negotiations, French prime minister Georges Clemenceau argued forcefully for punitive and restrictive measures against Germany. Clemenceau wanted to send Germany’s economy backwards, from a first-world industrial nation into a weak cluster of provinces concerned with agricultural production and small-scale manufacturing.

A punitive treaty

The Treaty of Versailles came to reflect much more of Clemenceau’s punitive approach than Wilson’s conciliatory one. Among its main terms and conditions:

  • Germany lost substantial amounts of territory. She was stripped of all overseas colonies and forced to surrender large amounts of European territory, including some of significant strategic or industrial value. Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France, while other areas were surrendered to Belgium, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
  • The Rhineland, an area of German territory bordering France, was ordered to be demilitarised, as a means of protecting the French border. Another German border region, the Saarland, was occupied and administered by France.
  • Germany was banned from entering into any political union or confederation with Austria.
  • The German Reichswehr (army) was restricted in size. It could contain no more than 100,000 men and it was forbidden from using conscription to fill its ranks. There were also restrictions on the size and composition of its officer class.
  • The German military was subject to other restrictions and prohibitions. Naval vessels were restricted in tonnage while bans were imposed on the production or acquisition of tanks, heavy artillery, chemical weapons, aircraft, airships and submarines.
  • The treaty’s Article 231 (the ‘war guilt clause’) determined that Germany was single-handedly responsible for initiating the war, thus providing a legal basis for the payment of war reparations to the Allies.

German delegates react

The terms of the Treaty of Versailles were formulated without the input of Germany, whose delegates were not permitted to attend the peace negotiations. In May 1919, a German contingent was finally invited to Paris. After being kept waiting for several days, they were presented with the draft treaty.

The German foreign minister, Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, addressed those at Versailles quite candidly. Brockdorff-Rantzau told them that while his country was prepared to make amends for wartime excesses, the premise that Germany was alone in starting the war or exceeding the rules of war was baseless:

“We are ready to admit that unjust things have been done. We have not come here to diminish the responsibility of the men who have waged war politically and economically or to deny that breaches of the law of nations have been committed… But the measure of guilt of all those who have taken part can be established only by an impartial inquiry, a neutral commission before which all the principals in the tragedy can be allowed to speak, and to which all archives are open. We have asked for such an inquiry and we ask for it once more…

In their hearts, the German people will resign themselves to a hard lot if the bases of peace are mutually agreed on and not destroyed. A peace which cannot be defended before the world as a peace of justice will always invite new resistance. No one could sign it with a clear conscience, for it could not be carried out. No one could venture to guarantee its execution, though this obligation is required by the signing of the treaty.”

German national unity

When news of the treaty reached Germany, it generated a firestorm of public anger. There were few moments of consensus and national unity in Weimar Germany but the response to the Treaty of Versailles was one of them.

Germans had expected a fair and even-handed agreement based on Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Instead, they were handed what they called the “Versailles diktat” – a treaty not negotiated between equals but forced on a war-ravaged and starving people at the point of a gun.

Erich Ludendorff considered the treaty the work of Jews, bankers and plotting socialists. Gustav Stresemann described it as a “moral, political and economic death sentence”. “We will be destroyed,” said Walther Rathenau.

In the Weimar Reichstag, delegates from all political parties except the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) rose to condemn the Versailles treaty and the conduct of the Allies. Almost every newspaper in Germany slammed the treaty and screamed for the government to reject it.

To ratify or not ratify?

For two tense months, the Weimar government debated the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. The issue brought about the demise of Philipp Scheidemann, the Weimar Republic’s first chancellor. Scheidemann resigned rather than ratify the treaty, which he called a “murderous plan”.

President Friedrich Ebert was also opposed to the Versailles treaty. In June, he contacted military commanders and asked whether the army could defend the nation if the government refused to sign the treaty and the Allies resumed the war. Both Paul von Hindenburg and Wilhelm Groener advised the Reichstag that the army lacked material and munitions and could not withstand an Allied offensive or invasion of Germany.

Any refusal to comply with Versailles would also prolong the Allied food blockade. This blockade, which was still being maintained in June 1919, was contributing to thousands of civilian deaths from starvation.

The Treaty accepted

Confronted with this advice, the Reichstag had no alternative but to submit to the Allies. Germany’s delegates signed the treaty on June 28th 1919. It was ratified by the Weimar National Assembly almost a fortnight later (July 9th), passing 209 votes to 116.

For the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and other moderates, acceptance of the Versailles treaty was a necessary measure. It was done reluctantly to prevent more war and bloodshed, an Allied invasion of Germany and the possible dissolution of the German state. Some hoped the terms of the treaty could be renegotiated and relaxed later.

Those in the military and the far right, however, saw it as yet another betrayal. “Today German honour is dragged to the grave. Never forget it!” screamed one nationalist newspaper. “The German people will advance again to regain their pride. We will have our revenge for the shame of 1919!”

Conspiracists on the nationalist right claimed the ratification as more evidence of destructive forces at work in Germany’s civilian government. It was the work of the same “November criminals” who had signed the 1918 armistice.

The Treaty of Versailles – or, more specifically, the question of how Germany should respond to it – would contribute to political divisions for the life of the Weimar Republic.

1. The Treaty of Versailles, drafted in 1919, formally concluded hostilities between the Allies and Germany.

2. Germany was not a party to treaty negotiations but was handed peace terms in May 1919, inviting protest.

3. The treaty was widely opposed within Germany, the government briefly considered refusing to sign and ratify.

4. Faced with a resumption of the war and an Allied invasion, the Weimar government reluctantly ordered the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and organised its ratification by the Reichstag.

5. This acceptance of the treaty outraged nationalist groups, who considered it another example of the Dolchstosselegende. Versailles and its harsh terms contributed to more than a decade of political division in the Weimar Republic.

Citation information
Title: “The Treaty of Versailles”
Authors: Jennifer Llewellyn, Steve Thompson
Publisher: Alpha History
URL: https://alphahistory.com/weimarrepublic/treaty-of-versailles/
Date published: September 23, 2019
Date accessed: Today’s date
Copyright: The content on this page may not be republished without our express permission. For more information on usage, please refer to our Terms of Use.


The palace

The original residence was primarily a hunting lodge and private retreat for Louis XIII (reigned 1610–43) and his family. In 1624 the king entrusted Jacques Lemercier with the construction of a château on the site. Its walls are preserved today as the exterior facade overlooking the Marble Court.

Under the guidance of Louis XIV (reigned 1643–1715), the residence was transformed (1661–1710) into an immense and extravagant complex surrounded by stylized French and English gardens. Every detail of its construction was intended to glorify the king. The additions were designed by such renowned architects as Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Robert de Cotte, and Louis Le Vau. Charles Le Brun oversaw the interior decoration. Landscape artist André Le Nôtre created symmetrical French gardens that included ornate fountains with “magically” still water, expressing the power of humanity—and, specifically, the king—over nature.

To the east of the palace is the Place d’Armes, a wide plaza that in the 21st century served mainly as a parking lot to accommodate the thousands of tourists who visited Versailles each day. In the centre of the Place d’Armes, facing the Avenue de Paris, is a bronze equestrian statue of Louis XIV. Originally located at the apex of the Court of Honour, the statue was relocated to the Place d’Armes in 2009 after an extensive restoration. To the west is the Gate of Honour, a gilded iron gate and stone balustrade that marks the main entrance to the palace complex. Beyond that lies the broad expanse of the Court of Honour, bounded on the north and south by the Ministers’ Wings, outbuildings constructed in the 1680s to house the king’s secretaries of state.

The Royal Gate, an elaborate gold leaf gate, separates the Court of Honour from the Royal Court at the location where the Louis XIV statue once stood. Unveiled in 2008, the Royal Gate partially re-creates a gate that was designed by Hardouin-Mansart in the 1680s and was destroyed during the French Revolution. Some art historians criticized the Royal Gate as a modern interpretation of the original rather than a true restoration, but it served an undeniably valuable role in directing visitor traffic. Flanking the Royal Court to the south is the Dufour Pavilion, while the Gabriel Pavilion lies to the north. Both areas were extensively remodeled in the 21st century to serve as visitor reception centres. Beyond the Royal Court is the Marble Court, so named for the distinctive black and white marble tiles that adorn the terrace floor. Dozens of marble busts, depicting Roman deities and emperors, adorn the facades overlooking the court, and the central buildings of the palace complex rise around it.

The ground floor of the central building was reserved for key members of the royal family. Located there are the apartments of the dauphin, the dauphine, and the daughters of Louis XV. The private apartments of the queen, Marie-Antoinette, and the living quarters of the captain of the guard are also found on the ground floor. The first floor of the central building houses the lavish apartments of the king and queen as well as numerous salons for entertaining guests and members of court. The Bull’s-Eye Salon, named for its distinctive oval window, was the anteroom where courtiers waited until the king rose. It leads to the bedroom in which Louis XIV died and that Louis XV occupied from 1722 to 1738.

Perhaps the most-famous room in the palace is the Hall of Mirrors (1678–89). The gallery extends more than 230 feet (70 metres) and is characterized by 17 wide arcaded mirrors opposite 17 windows that overlook the gardens below. Glass chandeliers adorn the arched, ornately painted ceiling, upon which Le Brun depicted a series of 30 scenes glorifying the early years of the reign of Louis XIV. Gilded statues and reliefs border its marble walls. The hall is flanked on opposite ends by the equally striking Salon of Peace and Salon of War.

In the north wing, the palace chapel rises above the rest of the grounds. It was begun by Hardouin-Mansart in 1699 and was his last important work. The chapel was completed by de Cotte in 1710, and it hosted daily masses as well as royal weddings and baptisms until 1789. The north wing also contains galleries, salons, and apartments. At the far north end of the wing is the Opéra Royal, built under Louis XV by Ange-Jacques Gabriel. It was first used on May 16, 1770, for the marriage of the dauphin (later Louis XVI) and Marie-Antoinette. The theatre was the site of a lavish banquet for royal guardsmen on October 2, 1789, and the pro-monarchy excesses on display were reported—and likely exaggerated—by the Revolutionary press. Three days later the so-called “women’s march” on Versailles would force Louis XVI to relocate to Paris and spell the end of the palace as a royal residence. The Opéra Royal hosted the National Assembly from 1871 until the proclamation of the Third Republic in 1875, and the Senate met there from March 8, 1876, until the legislature returned to Paris in 1879.

The south wing was nicknamed “the princes’ wing,” as the princes du sang (“princes of the blood”) were given quarters there. That area underwent extensive remodeling in the post-Revolutionary period, and the ground floor is now dominated by the Hall of Congress, where the Chamber of Deputies met from 1876 to 1879. The first floor is almost entirely occupied by the Battles Gallery, which was designed by architects Frédéric Nepveu and Pierre-Léonard Fontaine and was unveiled in June 1837. It traces the military history of France from the reign of Clovis I to Napoleon. Dozens of paintings depict key battles, and the hall contains more than 80 busts of celebrated military leaders.


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