Germany and the Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was received very badly within Germany. The nation had been blamed entirely for the first world war and had been forced to pay compensation to the allies under the war guilt clause of the treaty. The war guilt clause not only made the Germans accept responsibility for the war but also cost them dearly. 10% of German lands were lost as a result, all of Germany’s overseas colonies were taken away and shared between the allies and a massive 12.5% of the German population found itself living outside of the new German borders. These terms had several very dramatic consequences on Germany.
Initially they refused to sign the treaty and opted to scuttle the fleet in protest.
The Physical impact of the Treaty
The Treaty of Versailles radically altered the Geography of Europe. The Treaty had clauses that resulted in areas of land being taken from Germany. The following maps illustrate the scale of these losses:
From these maps it is clear that Germany suffered large territorial losses. The provinces of Alsace and Lorraine returned to France; parts of Schleswig were ceded to Denmark; to the east, new countries were created to roughly match the ethnic balance of the area and finally, ‘The Polish Corridor’ was created which gave the Poles a broad strip of land that connected it to the sea – and consequently separated Eastern Prussia from the rest of Germany. It was not just in Europe that German suffered territorial losses. All of Germany’s overseas colonies were annexed by the Allies, either to become colonies or areas that were managed until independence could be maintained autonomously. In total, Germany lost over one million square miles of land and 6 million subjects.
The financial impact of the Treaty
The Treaty of Versailles blamed Germany for the First World War. As a result of this Germany was also held accountable for the cost of the war and the Treaty dictated that compensation would have to be paid to the Allies. These payments, called reparations, would be paid monthly and would total some £6,600 million (This figure was agreed by the Allies in 1921). It is important not to take this figure in isolation though. Remember that the economic might of Germany had been stretched to the limits during the war, and she would have to reconstruct her own economy at the same time as paying Reparations. In addition, Germany had lost some of her most precious sources of Raw materials as her colonies, and some of the areas ceded to other countries, were rich sources of income. These factors would make it harder for the German economy to cope. Further to this it is important to note the casualties suffered during the war. Germany lost some 1.7 million men during the war, and a further 4.2 million are listed as being wounded.
The Political Impact of the Treaty
The Treaty triggered a number of political reactions. Firstly the government of the day resigned, having refused to sign it. The incoming government had no choice but to sign the Treaty but was accused by some, General Ludendorff for example, of stabbing the Germany people in the back. This Theory grew in popularity as the economy suffered and many, former soldiers in particular, believed that the politicians had lost the war rather than the army. (For some it was hard to accept that they could have lost the war whilst troops were still stationed in France, having not lost the ground that they had taken in 1914.) This, amongst other things, led to a growth in the number of people who distrusted the Weimar Republic and were unwilling to support it. This manifests itself in uprisings such as the Kapp Putsch and the Munich Putsch, though there are other factors which led to these uprisings.
The Treaty also called for the trial of the former Kaiser. This never happened as the Dutch government refused to hand him over, but this effectively stopped any chance of a restoration of the monarchy in Germany. In Western Europe the Treaty signaled the beginning of a period of isolation for Germany. She became an outcast in international politics and was feared and distrusted by the Allies. This had a significant impact on the role that Germany would, and potentially could, play in European and World affairs in the early post war climate. However, whilst it is evident that Germany became politically isolated in the West, some historians would point out that their isolation has been exaggerated by Westerners. The Treaty of Rapello for example shows that there was scope for Germany to develop relations in the east, in this case with the Soviet Union, and, they would point out, the newly formed nations were in need of economic partners – with Germany being a likely dominant partner in that sphere.
History Teachers’ Resources – our resources section includes several ready to use lessons on German History along with revision materials for GCSE pupils.
Selected Links on the Treaty of Versailles
This site summarises the losses suffered by Germany as a result of the Treaty of Versailles.
The Spartacus Website offers a succinct overview of the main terms of the Treaty and provides source material pertaining to the immediate reaction of people to the Treaty.
An online webquest relating to the Treaty of Versailles. Something to use as revision material.
The faults of the Treaty of Versailles. An expert opinion criticising the Treaty of Versailles.
Part of a large online investigation into the way in which the peace Treaty was formulated. An excellent online resource that is of great use to students of this era.
An excellent overview of the terms and consequences of the Treaty of Versailles.
Key Political and territorial clauses of the Treaty of Versailles.
A detailed evaluation of the impact of the Treaty of Versailles on the German economy
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