What is the Treaty of Versailles?

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  • Written By: Hanna H.
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 15 May 2020
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Signed on 28 June 1919 in Versailles, France, the Treaty of Versailles was the most recognized of many peace treaties that came out of the Paris Peace Conference. Though the actual fighting in World War I ended on 11 November 1918 when Germany signed an armistice with the allied powers, the formal end to the war didn't come until a peace treaty was signed. The Paris Peace Conference was convened on 18 January 1919 to provide a formal end to the war and determine how the aftermath would be handled. Out of that conference came several peace treaties, also known as the Peace of Paris Treaties. One of those treaties — the Treaty of Versailles — identified Germany as the sole cause of the war, made it give up control of substantial amounts of territory, imposed substantial financial reparations, and significantly reduced its military capacity.

The Treaty of Versailles was completed in April of 1919 — months after the four day Paris Peace Conference was over. It took the Allied leaders several months of arguments, compromise and bargaining before the treaty was presented to Germany for consideration on 7 May 1919.

When presented, the treaty included 440 Articles and numerous Annexes. The German government was given three weeks to accept the terms of the treaty, which it had not seen prior to the May delivery. The treaty declared an end to the state of war between Germany and the Allies; and, above all, gave the Allies control over what to do with the Germany and the Central Powers. While Germany had several complaints about, and amendments to, the treaty, the country’s input was almost entirely disregarded.

One major part of the Treaty of Versailles was that Germany must accept sole responsibility for starting the war. This was known as the “War Guilt Clause.” Due to this acceptance of responsibility, Germany was forced to abide by several harsh and stringent treaty terms, including relinquishing a percentage of German land along with all overseas German colonies and returning all the land it took from Russia.

Germany’s military capacity was also severely limited. Its army was reduced to 100,000 men and its navy was reduced to 15,000 men, six battleships and no submarines. Its air force was dissolved. Western Germany was to be demilitarized, and Germany was forbidden to unite with Austria. This demilitarization lasted until the 1930s when Nazi leaders began to build its strength up for what would become the second world war it would start — World War II.

In addition to reducing its territorial control, and military strength, in accepting the War Guilt Clause, Germany was required to pay substantial reparations. The majority of those reparations went to France and Belgium to repair any damage done to the infrastructure of both countries by the war. The amount of reparations was in the billions, leaving Germany in extreme poverty for over 20 years.

Throughout history, the Treaty of Versailles has been criticized for being overly harsh on Germany. The country suffered extremely difficult financial times as a result of the Treaty, and spent decades trying to fulfill the agreements created. In fact, several historians believe that the Nazi regime and the Second World War were a direct result to the harshness Germany undertook due to the treaty.

Other treaties resulting from the Paris Peace Conference included: The Treaty of Saint-Germain with Austria, 10 September 1919; the Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria, 27 November 1919; the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary, 4 June 1920; and, the Treaty of Sèvres with the Ottoman Empire, 10 August 1920.

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