The Treaty of 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, one of the events that triggered the start of the war. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I were dealt with in separate treaties. Although the armistice signed on 11 November 1918 ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required Germany and its allies to accept responsibility for causing the war and, under the terms of articles 231-248, to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. The Treaty was undermined by subsequent events starting as early as 1922 and was widely flouted by the mid-thirties.[1]

The result of these competing and sometimes incompatible goals among the victors was a compromise that nobody was satisfied with. Germany was not pacified, conciliated or permanently weakened, which would prove to be a factor leading to later conflicts.


Negotiations between the Allied powers started on 18 January in the Salle de l'Horloge at the French Foreign Ministry, on the Quai d'Orsay in Paris. Initially, 70 delegates of 27 nations participated in the negotiations. Having been defeated, Germany, Austria, and Hungary were excluded from the negotiations. Russia was also excluded because it had negotiated a separate peace with Germany in 1917, in which Germany gained a large fraction of Russia's land and resources.

Signing in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of VersaillesUntil March 1919, the most important role for negotiating the extremely complex and difficult terms of the peace fell to the regular meetings of the "Council of Ten" (leaders of government and foreign ministers) composed of the five major victors (the United States, France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan). As this unusual body proved too unwieldy and formal for effective decision-making, Japan and — for most of the remaining conference — the foreign ministers left the main meetings, so that only the "Big Four" remained.[4] After his territorial claims to Fiume were rejected, Italian Prime Minister, Vittorio Orlando left the negotiations (only to return to sign in June), and the final conditions were determined by the leaders of the "Big Three" nations: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and American President Woodrow Wilson.

Japan had originally attempted to insert a clause proscribing discrimination on the basis of race or nationality, but this was eventually struck down due to prevailing attitudes.

At Versailles, it was difficult to decide on a common position because their aims conflicted with one another. The result has been called the "unhappy compromise".

France's aims

From left, UK Prime Minister George, Italian Prime Minister Orlando, French Prime Minister Clemenceau, and US President WilsonFrance had lost some 1.5 million military personnel and an estimated 400,000 civilians to the war (see World War I casualties), and much of the western front had been fought on French soil.[citation needed] To appease the French public, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau wanted to impose policies deliberately meant to cripple Germany militarily, politically, and economically so as never to be able to invade France again.[citation needed] Georges Clemenceau also particularly wished to regain the rich and industrial land of Alsace-Lorraine, which had been stripped from France by Germany in the 1871 War.[citation needed]

Britain's aims

Prime Minister David Lloyd George supported reparations but to a lesser extent than the French. Lloyd George was aware that if the demands made by France were carried out, France could become the most powerful force on the continent, and a delicate balance could be unsettled.[citation needed] Lloyd George was also worried by Woodrow Wilson's proposal for "self-determination" and, like the French, wanted to preserve his own nation's empire.[citation needed] Like the French, Lloyd George also supported secret treaties and naval blockades.[citation needed]

Prior to the war, Germany had been Britain's main competitor and its largest trading partner,[7] making the destruction of Germany at best a mixed blessing.[citation needed]

Lloyd George managed to increase the overall reparations payment and Britain's share by demanding compensation for the huge number of widows, orphans, and men left unable to work through injury, due to the war.[citation needed]

Due to pressure of the public Lloyd George supported the slogan "Hang the Kaiser" to make his people happy and gain votes.

United States' aims

There had been strong non-interventionist sentiment before and after the United States entered the war in April 1917, and many Americans were eager to extricate themselves from European affairs as rapidly as possible.[citation needed] The United States took a more conciliatory view toward the issue of German reparations. American Leaders wanted to ensure the success of future trading opportunities and favourably collect on the European debt, and hoped to avoid future wars.[citation needed]

Before the end of the war, President Woodrow Wilson, along with other American officials including Edward Mandell House, put forward his Fourteen Points which he presented in a speech at the Paris Peace Conference.


Impositions on Germany

Legal restrictions

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

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."[8] Germany was also forbidden to unite with Austria to form a larger Nation to make up for the lost land

The Rhineland will become a demilitarized zone administered by Great Britain and France jointly. 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, 6 battleships (no more than 10,000 tons displacement each), 6 cruisers (no more than 6,000 tons displacement each), 6 destroyers (no more than 800 tons displacement each) and 12 torpedo boats (no more than 200 tons displacement each). No submarines are to be included. The manufacture, import, and export of weapons and poison gas is prohibited. Armed aircraft, tanks and armored cars are prohibited. Blockades on ports are prohibited.

Territorial changes

Germany after Versailles

    Administered by the League of Nations

    Annexed by neighbouring countries

Weimar GermanyGermany was compelled to yield control of its colonies, and would also lose a number of European territories. The province of West Prussia would be ceded to the newly independent Second Polish Republic, thereby granting Poland access to the Baltic Sea via the "Polish Corridor", and turning East Prussia into an exclave, separated from mainland Germany.

Alsace and much of Lorraine, both at one time German territories that had been ceded to Germany on 26 February 1871 due to the Treaty of Frankfurt of 10 May 1871, were placed under French administration without a plebiscite. At first the Alsatians welcomed rejoining France, but because of the subsequent harsh French assimilation policy forbidding German language schools and newspapers, the majority of Alsatians would soon turn against France and demand their independence.[citation needed] Clemenceau was convinced that the German neighbour had "20 million people too much", thus incorporating the seven million inhabitants and the industry of the Prussian province was seen as means to weaken Germany and strengthen France.[9] Northern Schleswig was returned to Denmark following a plebiscite on 14 February 1920 (area 3,984 km², 163,600 inhabitants (1920)).[citation needed] Central Schleswig, including the city of Flensburg, opted to remain German in a separate referendum on 14 March 1920.[citation needed] 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, 4,224,000 inhabitants (1931). Most of the Province of Posen had already come under Polish control during the Great Poland Uprising of 1918-1919. The population in West Prussia were denied a plebiscite. The separation of East Prussia from mainland Germany caused economic decline and poverty in East Prussia. The placing of 2.1 Million Germans in West Prussia and Upper Silesia had been critized severely by H.G. Wells, by the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, by the Italian Prime Minister Francisco Nitti and many others as one of the major causes triggering World War II. The British Prime Minister had warned that "this will lead, sooner or later, to a new war".[10] The annexation of West Prussia and the violation of minority rights by the Polish state had led to a mass influx of West Prussian refugees into the German mainland during the 1920s. Out of an approximate 1 million West Prussians in 1919, over 750,000 had fled their homes by 1926.[11] The Hultschin area of Upper Silesia to Czechoslovakia (area 316 or 333 km², 49,000 inhabitants) without a plebiscite.[citation needed] The eastern part of Upper Silesia was assigned to Poland after the Upper Silesia plebiscite, which was provided for in the Treaty, and the ensuing partition along voting lines in Upper Silesia by the League of Nations following protests by Polish inhabitants and nationalists like Wojciech Korfanty. After the plebiscite of March 20, 1920 in which almost 60% voted to stay under German rule, the vote was tallied, weighed against "geographical and economic conditions"[12] and a large part ceded to Poland.[13] With this partition, important zinc, lead and silver industries as well as 90% of the Upper Silesian coal were taken from Germany. Among Upper Silesians, the decision caused bitterness.[14] The area of cities Eupen and Malmedy to Belgium. The trackbed of the Vennbahn railway 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).[15] The northern part of East Prussia known as the Memellandor Memel Territory under control of France, later annexed by Lithuania. From the eastern part of West Prussia and the southern part of East Prussia, after the East Prussian plebiscite a small area to Poland. The province of Saarland to be under the control of the League of Nations for 15 years, after that a plebiscite between France and Germany, to decide to which country it would belong. During this time, coal would be sent to France. The French referred to the region as Saarbecken (Saar Basin). The port of Danzig with the delta of the Vistula River at the Baltic Sea was cut off from Germany and called Freie Stadt Danzig (Free City of Danzig). The citizens of Danzig were not free to choose their government; they were placed under the permanent protection of the League of Nations without a plebiscite. Poland took administrative control over the city and tried to incorporate the city into their state. A mass demonstration of the people of Danzig took place on 28 March 1919, with over 80,000 people declaring "no" to Poland. (1929 area was 1,893 km² with 408,000 inhabitants, 97% German, 2% Polish, 1% Kashube).[citation needed] The German and Austrian governments had to acknowledge and strictly respect the independence of Austria. The unification of both countries, although desired by the great majority of both populations, was strictly forbidden.[16][17]

Shandong problem

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


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

The total sum of war reparations demanded from Germany — 226 billion Reichsmarks in gold (around £11.3 billion)— was decided by an Inter-Allied Reparations Commission. In 1921, it was reduced to 132 billion Reichsmarks (£4.99 billion).[

It could be seen that the Versailles reparation impositions were partly a reply to the reparations placed upon France by Germany through the 1871 Treaty of Frankfurt signed after the Franco-Prussian War.[citation needed] However, critics[who?] of the Treaty argued that France had been able to pay the reparations (5 billion francs) within 3 years while the Young Plan of 1929 estimated German reparations to be paid until 1988.[19] Indemnities of the Treaty of Frankfurt were in turn calculated, on the basis of population, as the precise equivalent of the indemnities imposed by Napoleon I on Prussia in 1807.

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

Germany will finish paying off her World War I reparations in 2020.

The creation of international organisations

Part I of the treaty was the Covenant of the League of Nations which provided for the creation of the League of Nations, an organisation intended to arbitrate international disputes and thereby avoid future wars.[22]. Part XIII organised the establishment of the International Labour Organisation, 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 organisation of vocational and technical education and other measures"[23] 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.[24]


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

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


Among the allies

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 Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, who felt the restrictions on Germany were too lenient, declared, "This is not Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years."[25]

Influenced by the opposition of Henry Cabot Lodge, the United States Senate voted against ratifying the treaty. Despite considerable debate, Wilson refused to support the treaty with any of the reservations imposed by the Senate.[26] As a result, the United States did not join the League of Nations, despite Wilson's claims that he could "predict with absolute certainty that within another generation there will be another world war if the nations of the world do not concert the method by which to prevent it."[27]

Wilson's 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."

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 United States and the Central Powers. It was signed into law by Harding on 21 July 1921.[29]

In Germany

On 29 April the German delegation under the leadership of the Foreign Minister Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau arrived in Versailles. On 7 May 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.

Demonstration against the Treaty in front of the Reichstag buildingBecause 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"[31] and soon afterwards, withdrew from the proceedings of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany's first democratically elected Chancellor, Philipp Scheidemann refused to sign the treaty and resigned. In a passionate speech before the National Assembly on 12 March 1919, he called the treaty a "murderous plan" and exclaimed,

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

After Scheidemann's resignation, a new coalition government was formed under Gustav Bauer and it recommended signing the treaty. The National Assembly voted in favour of signing the treaty by 237 to 138, with 5 abstentions. The foreign minister Hermann Müller and Johannes Bell travelled to Versailles to sign the treaty on behalf of Germany. The treaty was signed on 28 June 1919 and ratified by the National Assembly on 9 July 1919 by a vote of 209 to 116.

Conservatives, nationalists and ex-military leaders began to speak critically about the peace and Weimar politicians, socialists, communists, and Jews were viewed with suspicion due to their supposed extra-national loyalties.[citation needed] It was rumoured that the Jews had not supported the war and had played a role in selling out Germany to its enemies. This was mainly due to certain members of the World Zionist Congress, many of whom were from Germany, attempting to influence (with some success) the British and American governments' policy toward the Ottoman Empire (with special attention given to the fate of Palestine), which became known at the Paris Peace Conference. This effort produced the Balfour Declaration.[34] These November Criminals, or those who seemed to benefit from a weakened Germany, and the newly formed Weimar Republic, were seen to have "stabbed them in the back" on the home front, by either criticizing 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 in French and Belgian territory. Not only had the German Army been in enemy territory the entire time on the Western Front, but on the Eastern Front, Germany had already won the war against Russia, concluded with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In the West, Germany had seemed to come close to winning the war with the Spring Offensive.[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 seen to be instigated by treasonous elements, with the Jews taking most of the blame.[citation needed] This overlooked Germany's strategic position and ignored how the efforts of individuals were somewhat marginalized on the front.

Nevertheless, this myth of domestic betrayal fell on fertile ground, due to the conditions of the treaty seen unanimously as unacceptable (quote Philip Scheidemann before he refused to sign and stepped down) [35] by all political parties from left to right.


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 (219 billion Gold Reichsmarks) still placed a significant burden on the German economy, accounting for as much as one third of post-treaty hyperinflation.[citation needed] The economic strain eventually reached the point where Germany stopped paying the reparations 'agreed' upon in the Treaty of Versailles. As a result French and Belgium forces invaded and occupied the Ruhr, a heavily industrialised part of Germany along the French-German border. German workers called a 'passive resistance', meaning that they would no longer work the factories while the French owned them.

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

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

Historical assessments

Henry Kissinger called the treaty a "brittle compromise agreement between American utopianism and European paranoia — too conditional to fulfil the dreams of the former, too tentative to alleviate the fears of the latter."[citation needed]

In his book The Economic Consequences of the Peace, Keynes referred to the Treaty of Versailles as a "Carthaginian peace".[36] Keynes had been the principal representative of the British Treasury at the Paris Peace Conference, and used in his passionate book arguments which he and others (including some US officials) had used at Paris.

French Resistance economist Étienne Mantoux disputed that analysis. During the 1940s, Mantoux wrote a book titled, "The Carthaginian Peace, or the Economic Consequences of Mr. Keynes" in an attempt to rebut Keynes' claims; it was published after his death.

More recently it has been argued (for instance by historian Gerhard Weinberg in his book "A World At Arms") that the treaty was in fact quite advantageous to Germany. The Bismarckian Reich was maintained as a political unit instead of being broken up, and Germany largely escaped post-war military occupation (in contrast to the situation following World War II.)

The British military historian Correlli Barnett claimed that the Treaty of Versailles was "extremely lenient in comparison with the peace terms 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.

Barnett also claims that, in strategic terms, Germany was in fact in a superior position following the Treaty than she had been in 1914. Germany's eastern frontiers faced Russia and Austria, who had both in the past balanced German power. But Barnett asserts that, because the Austrian empire fractured after the war into smaller, weaker states and Russia was wracked by revolution and civil war, the newly restored Poland was no match for even a defeated Germany.

In the West, Germany was balanced only by France and Belgium, both of which were smaller in population and less economically vibrant than Germany. Barnett concludes by saying that instead of weakening Germany, the Treaty "much enhanced" German power. Britain and France should have (according to Barnett) "divided and permanently weakened" Germany by undoing Bismarck's work and partitioning Germany into smaller, weaker states so it could never disrupt the peace of Europe again. By failing to do this and therefore not solving the problem of German power and restoring the equilibrium of Europe, Britain "had failed in her main purpose in taking part in the Great War".

Regardless of modern strategic or economic analysis, resentment caused by the treaty sowed fertile psychological ground for the eventual rise of the Nazi party. Indeed, on Nazi Germany's rise to power, Adolf Hitler resolved to overturn the remaining military and territorial provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. Military build-up began almost immediately in direct defiance of the Treaty, which, by then, had been destroyed by Hitler in front of a cheering crowd. "It was this treaty which caused a chain reaction leading to World War II" claimed historian Dan Rowling (1951). Various references to the treaty are found in many of Hitler's speeches and in pre-war Nazi propaganda.[citation needed]

French historian Raymond Cartier points out 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.[11] 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.[11] In 1926, the Polish Ministry of the Interior estimated the remaining number of Germans at less than 300,000.[citation needed] These sharpening ethnic conflicts would lead to public demands of reattaching the annexed territory in 1938 and become a pretext for Hitler's annexations of Czechoslovakia and parts of Poland.[11]

The "2008 School Project History" has explored the question of depicting Germany as having "accepted the Versailles Treaty" in many German history textbooks, insofar as this creates the impression that German delegates signed the treaty freely rather than under the threat of renewed (or continued) sanctions.

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