We explain what the Versailles Treaty was, the conditions it imposed on Germany, its causes and consequences.
What was the Treaty of Versailles of 1919?
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace agreements that ended the First World War on June 28, 1919 . Its name comes from the place of its signature, in the Gallery of Mirrors of the Palace of the city of Versailles, France.
This event, in which more than 50 countries intervened , specifically ended the state of war between the German Empire (or Second German Reich) and the Allied countries.
Eleven months before the signing of the Treaty of Versailles an armistice (1918) had already been signed between the warring parties. However, it took several months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to reach a final agreement.
This treaty entered into force on January 10, 1920 , subjecting the German Empire to a strict disarmament regime. He forced him to assume all the moral and material responsibility of what until then had been the greatest and most catastrophic armed conflict in the modern history of mankind.
The impositions included, for example, gigantic compensation to the victorious countries. The terms of the treaty generated enormous resentment in the German population and the feeling that the debt would be impossible to pay. Consequently, he was partially responsible for the rise of Nazism and Adolf Hitler’s access to power.
After the fall of the Empire, the Weimar Republic was established in Germany. However, its political weakness added to the very poor living conditions of the German working class . That is why the treaty authority was undermined from 1922 and its restrictions systematically violated by the Nazi regime in the thirties.
Summary of the Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was composed of fifteen parts, each composed of a variable number of articles, which detailed the resolutions imposed on the defeated in various thematic axes. They included from sanctions, economic and financial clauses, to redefinition of German borders and guarantees that would prevent future conflicts.
Broadly speaking, these provisions imposed on Germany the following:
- The reduction of the German territory in Europe from 540,766 km 2 (1910, before the war) to 468,787 km 2 (1925), and the obligation to cede the allies their colonial Empire completely, distributed mainly between the United Kingdom and France.
- All kinds of political union between Germany and the newly created Republic of Austria were banned (after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire).
- Delivery of all German war material to the Allies, along with their war fleet, and the reduction of their army to just 100,000 men and 4000 officers, without heavy artillery, submarines, or aviation. They were also forbidden to manufacture war material and the Army General Staff was dissolved. The compulsory military service was also abolished.
- Demilitarization of the Rhineland and occupation of the left bank of the Rhine , in addition to the internationalization of the Kiel Canal.
- The League of Nations was created to prevent a similar conflict from repeating itself, and Germany was banned from entering it, under the excuse that it was this nation and its allies that caused the War and its sole responsible parties.
- The entire German merchant fleet was handed over to the allies and the annual session of 200,000 tons of new ships was agreed to replace the one destroyed in the allied countries. It was also agreed to deliver huge amounts of material resources , such as mineral coal, head of cattle and all kinds of private German property in colonial territory. In addition, Germany would deliver half of its pharmaceutical, chemical production and all of its submarine cable production to the allies for a period of five years.
- Germany had to pay the exorbitant figure of 132,000 million German gold marks (equivalent to 442 million US dollars in 2012), a figure that exceeded international reserves.
Causes of the Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles has a unique and great cause: the defeat of the Central Powers during the First World War . Given the devastating nature of the conflict, the victors reacted viciously to their defeated enemies, subjecting them to various treaties drafted at their own convenience. The Treaty of Versailles was only one of them.
On the other hand, after the signing of the armistice the Peace Conferences of 1919 were held, attended by representatives of the victorious powers and the access of the defeated was not allowed. Thus, everything agreed upon was imposed without their voice or vote. This allows us to understand the feeling of arbitrariness that prompted the Treaty of Versailles.
Consequences of the Treaty of Versailles
The terms of the treaty were received as an insult and humiliation. Its economic consequences in Germany were catastrophic , unleashing hyperinflation, social suffering and political instability, factors that later allowed the emergence of fascism .
These terms were so abusive that the US Senate refused to sign the treaty and therefore did not take part in the League of Nations, greatly reducing its power to the nascent UN .