Versailles Treaty

   German opinion of the settlement that ended World War I was clear from the outset. "The Saar* basin... Poland,* Silesia, Oppeln . . . 123 milliards to pay and for all that we are supposed to say 'Thank you very much, an embittered German delegate cried over the telephone from Versailles upon learning of the treaty terms. Thus began a pattern of thought and behavior, embodied in the 20 June 1919 resignation of the cabinet of Philipp Scheidemann*—"what hand would not wither which placed this chain upon itself and upon us?"—that exemplified an almost unanimous denunciation of the "Versailles Diktat. Although the treaty forced many to face the reality of defeat, many others refused to accept that reality. Refusal was often combined with nonacceptance of the November Revolution,* thereby linking defeat and the Republic.
   The complex treaty signed on 28 June 1919 may be divided into four basic categories: territorial issues, disarmament* demands, reparations,* and assign-ment of guilt. Although the territorial issues (Articles 27-158) included the liquidation of Germany s colonial empire—over one million square miles and 14 million people—of greater import was reduction of its European land mass and population. In the west, Versailles made official the forfeiture of Alsace-Lorraine,* already required by the Armistice.* Although French claims included the Saar* and much of the Rhineland,* Britain and the United States resisted such ambitions on the basis of national self-determination. But because of Ger-many s destruction of French coal mines at the end of the war, sovereignty over the Saar was yielded to the League of Nations for a period of fifteen years, during which France was allowed to exploit the region s mines. At the end of fifteen years a plebiscite was planned whereby the Saarlanders would determine their sovereignty. With regard to the Rhineland, the Rhineland Agreement (tech-nically separate from the treaty) called for a fifteen-year inter-Allied occupation to a point fifty kilometers east of the Rhine; the same area was to remain per-manently demilitarized. Also in the west, Germany surrendered the approxi-mately four hundred square miles of Eupen-Malmedy to Belgium (about 64,000 people) as well as a piece of northern Schleswig, with about 100,000 inhabitants, to Denmark. Of lesser import, Luxemburg was removed from the German cus-toms union. Losses in the east were more profound. France viewed a resurrected Poland* both as a barrier to Bolshevism and as a substitute for Russian power.
   An early draft of the treaty assigned Danzig,* the Posen district, West Prussia, Upper Silesia,* and much of East Prussia to Poland. Notwithstanding Britain's demand for alterations—Danzig and Memel were ceded to the League and pleb-iscites were approved for Upper Silesia and a portion of East Prussia—the loss of more than 3 million people from the core of old Prussia* embittered Ger-many.
   A further blow to Junker* pride was Allied resolve to slash the German military. Although this issue generated discord in Paris, the delegates soon drafted the treaty's disarmament clauses (Articles 159-213). They called initially for an army of 200,000 men, but the number was eventually cut to 100,000 men, including no more than 4,000 officers. Both officers and men were ex-pected to be enlistees, with officers serving twenty-five years and other ranks twelve. Germany was to destroy all fortifications in the west and to demilitarize the aforementioned zone extending fifty kilometers east of the Rhine. An air force, tanks, poison gas, and heavy artillery were forbidden, as was the General Staff. Germany s 21 June 1919 scuttling of forty-nine warships at Scapa Flow did much to settle the status of the navy. The treaty stipulated a navy of no more than six old battleships, six light cruisers, twelve destroyers, and twelve torpedo boats. Submarines and dreadnoughts were prohibited. The navy was allowed a force of 15,000 officers and men, all long-term volunteers. Bases on the islands of Heligoland and Dune were to be dismantled. Finally, an Inter-Allied Military Control Commission was formed to monitor treaty execution.
   In his 1920 history of the Paris Peace Conference, Harold Temperley wrote that for "her own unjust ends Germany had provoked a war, which brought on the world unparalleled loss and suffering. In defeat it was right that, like any other wrongdoer brought to justice,* she should make all amends within her power. This verdict, adopted by the Allies, sustained the demand for repara-tions. But while it was instituted through Article 19 of the Armistice,* trans-forming it into a total bill or payment plan proved impossible at Paris. What was the extent of Germany s liability? How might one evaluate its capacity to pay? What should be the form and duration of payments? Since rhetoric had recast an economic problem as a political one, the treaty (Article 233) postponed a decision on reparations by entrusting the issue to a commission; formed in February 1920, the Reparation Commission was to reach its determination by 1 May 1921. In the meantime, Article 235 dictated that Germany make an initial installment of 20 billion gold marks (about $4.5 billion) by 1 May 1921.
   The invasion of neutral Belgium, the wanton destruction of cities, the exe-cution of civilians, the use of submarines; in short, the manner in which Ger-many had waged war convinced the Allies that the issues of guilt and punishment must be addressed. Thus a Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War and the Enforcement of Penalties was formed on 25 January 1919. Articles 227-230 called for Kaiser Wilhelm's trial by a "special tribunal" and identification of others, jointly or as individuals, who might be tried for violating the laws and customs of war. Given the impasse over reparations, war guilt was conferred by Article 231, the article opening the reparations section. This clause proclaimed "the 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 and her Allies. While the territorial articles angered the Germans, no provision created as much rancor as Article 231, the "war guilt" clause. Articles 227-231, identified collectively as the "shamepar-agraphs, may have addressed a need to assign blame or exact vengeance after four years of carnage; unfortunately, they also inflamed passions while failing to provide an appropriate means for exacting punishment.
   REFERENCES:Kent, Spoils of War; Major Peace Treaties; Mayer, Politics and Diplo-macy; Schmidt, Versailles and the Ruhr; Stevenson, French War Aims; Temperley, A History of the Peace Conference of Paris; Gerhard Weinberg, "Defeat of Germany."

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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