Introduction

In 1919 at the close of the Great War, the combined world powers convened at Versailles, on the outskirts of Paris, to define the conditions of the Armistice that ended the war. The product of their meeting was the Treaty of Versailles which placed restrictions on the German military, forced Germany to pay reparations to the Allies and placed full responsibility of the war on Germany. These conditions of the treaty created a loss of sovereignty of Germany and placed hardships on the German population. The combined result was a decline of social and economical capital in German society.  The Nazi party capitalized on the conditions present in Germany and was able to rise to power. The following sections provide a brief overview of the problems that Germany faced because of the Treaty. For further information please reference the primary and secondary sources.

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Reparations

German children playing with money.

One of the terms stated in the Treaty of Versailles was that of reparations due to the Allies from Germany. This created an immense amount of debt for the German economy which in turn created hyperinflation which effected the German population directly. Many lost their jobs, prices of everyday needs, such as bread, went up and people lost their savings so Germany could begin paying what they owed to the Allies.

Germany’s economy in the 1920’s suffered greatly partly because of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany owed an abundant amount of money to the Allies, “[a] contracting 21.5 billion RM in foreign debts…”1 The reparations due caused a state of hyperinflation within Germany which also produced many to lose their jobs and savings because of the collapsing economy. As the economy continued to collapse, the Third Reich started to materialize, however, in the beginning, the new parliament too had to deal with the ensuing debt. “The Third Reich inherited from the Weimar Republic a chronically weak balance of payments that severely limited its freedom of maneuver. The First World War had stripped Germany of its foreign capital assets and replaced them with the liability of reparations.”2 It is clear that the effect of the reparations due to the Allies had a tremendous effect on the economy, which in turn would directly affect the people of Germany as well.

Growing up during the time after the Great War and witnessing firsthand how Germany suffered on account of the reparations and inflation, Ursula Mahlendorf writes in her biography of how it affected her family and the people around her, “…the ensuing inflation ensured that Germany’s economy would remain fragile; in this respect my family shared in the misfortune of many German middle-class citizens, who lost their savings, businesses and positions…”3 The concern inside the German people, especially those of the middle and lower class, began to rise after the signing of the Versailles Treaty. It is clear that after the reparations began to be paid, the German economy began to fall, which created many hardships for Germans people. Mahlendorf continues, “Rising anger over tax increases, salary cuts for the large civil service, business bankruptcies, and farming failures moved the lower middle class and middle class from the conservative center in Hitler’s party, or at least far to the Right.”4

The failing economy created a crutch for the rising Nazi Party. They portrayed solutions for the German people, generating a false sense of hope for the party and an unstable trust for their upcoming policies and resolutions as to how the Nazi Party would take the country out of an economic crisis, bring the people back to a secure, steady and prosperous way of life. It was the reparations that created a lack of faith inside the German people for their government, but it was the Nazis who would bring that faith back through false allegations.

1. Caplan, Jane, Nazi Germany. (Oxford University Press: Oxford, NY, 2008.) p. 181
2. Caplan, Jane, Nazi Germnay. P. 181
3. Ursula Mahlendorf, The Shame of Survival, Working Through a Nazi Childhood (Pennsylvania State University Press:University Park, PA, 2009) pp. 12-13
4. Malhendorf, Ursula, The Shame of Survival. P. 38

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Restricting the German Military

The limits that the Treaty of Versailles placed on Germany’s ability to produce military goods is important to understand because it allows us to better understand why the treaty failed to keep peace in Europe after World War One. The German military was frustrated by the feeling that they had been betrayed by the political leaders who chose to end the war. In 1919, the German government was weak because leaders fled government positions as the war was closing. The treaty required the military to keep its navy, army and air force small. Section V. Articles 159-213 outlined the restrictions. The Army was limited to 100,000 troops with no armored vehicles (See Chart). The Navy was limited to six battleship, six light cruisers, twelve destroyers, twelve torpedo boats, and no submarines. The Air force was restricted to 100 aircraft for search and rescue only and no armament was allowed on aircraft. Furthermore, Germany was required to destroy bunkers, defense systems, and to remove mines from rivers, seas and harbors. The total sum of the restrictions dismantled the German military and aimed to not allow it to be rebuilt.

The Treaty had restrictions that infringed on the military and economic policy of Germany, and when viewed through the lens of the political failure in 1920’s Germany, this meant that Germany lost sovereignty over herself. The loss of sovereignty encouraged nationalism within Germany, and when combined with the other factors, helped open the door for the Nazi party. Examining the sources that are presented will help explain the details of how the Treaty of Versailles restriction on the German military, helped to advance the efforts of the Nazi party following World War One.

 

 

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War Guilt Clause

In November 1918 the fighting in the first Great War ended with the signing of the armistice. In the summer of 1919 after six months of negations the Treaty of Versailles was signed. This treaty did many things. One of the more impactful articles in regards to Germany was article 231. This article later became known as the War Guilt Clause. This was the first article in part VIII of the Versailles Treaty called Reparations.

This War Guilt Clause or article 231 states “The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany her allies.”1. This article sets up later articles in the Reparations part of the Versailles treaty. In Sax and Kuntz’s book they talk about the effects that this article had on German life. “Article 231 identified Germany as the aggressor nation, which was there for liable for reparations payments to the Allied countries for their losses in the war. This demand placed a tremendous economic burden on a state that had itself suffered massive devastation in the war.”

  1. http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/versa/versa7.html : Peace Treaty of Versailles, Articles 231-247 and Annexes, Reparations
  2. Inside Hitler’s Germany, Benjamin Sax and Dieter Kuntz, (D.C. Heath and Company: Lexington MA, 1992) page 27

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Conclusion

The First World War was once thought to be ‘the war to end all wars’.  In an attempt to make this so, the Allies convened in Paris for the Paris Peace Conference, and ultimately created the Treaty of Versailles.  The terms implemented in the Versailles Treaty were extremely strict regarding how Germany must conduct herself in the following years and other actions she must take.  These terms were harsh and sent Germany into hyper-inflation, with help from the reparations that had to be paid.  This treaty also placed an immense amount of guilt for the whole war on Germany in the War Guilt Clause, which created further hostility within the German borders.  The unstable economic and political structure in Germany in the decade following the Peace Conference made the German citizens lust for change through any means possible.  Hitler utilized the impressionable atmosphere in Germany to gain a large following under the basis of unfair treatment by the Allies in the Treaty of Versailles.  If the Treaty of Versailles had not been so harsh to Germany and her people, Hitler would not have had enough ammunition to make such a large population so hateful towards the Allies, and eventually to any non-German and so willing to declare a second world war.

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