The Treaty of Versailles was the peace settlement signed after the World War I, ending the state of conflict between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on June 28, 1919, after months of argument and negotiation among Great Britain, France, and the United States, as to what the treaty should contain. The leaders of these three nations were known as the “Big Three.” They were Prime Minister David Lloyd George of England, Georges Clemenceau of France, and President Woodrow Wilson of the United States. Article 231 of the Treaty laid sole responsibility for the war on Germany, which was held accountable for all the damage done to civilian population of the allies, even though the allied countries were as much responsible for the outbreak of World War I. Article 231 was written based not on justice, but on cultural prejudices. For instance, the Germans were referred to by the Allies as the “Huns,” “the Wolves,” or the “Barbarians.” But if one reads the terms of the this treaty, then one wonders who were the wolves? Germany became the scapegoat, the center of evilness of humankind.
The Treaty of Versailles terms, which was imposed on Germany, were humiliating and rapacious, stripping Germany of huge chunks of territory. Not only did Germany have to hand over the German territories of Alsace and Lorraine, which the French had greedily wrenched away from Germany before, right after the Thirty Years War with the Treaty of Münster and Osnabrück, but also she had to surrender big portions of West Prussia, Posen and Silesia, to Poland, which isolated East Prussia from the rest of Germany. The new territory gained by Poland ended in the Polish Corridor, which gave this country access to the Baltic Sea. The eastern banks of the Rhine also had to be handed over to the French. In the south, Germany was forced to cede the Sudetenland region, in which ethnic Germans lived, to form a new nation, Czechoslovakia. In the north, Germany also had cede Schleswig to Denmark. In the West, Eupen and Malmedy were given to Belgium. Finally, the Saar, Danzig and Memel were put under French control and the people of these regions would be authorized to vote whether they wanted to stay within Germany or not in a future referendum.
Germany was also forbidden to unite with Austria to form a larger Nation to make up for the lost land. Germany’s army was reduced to 100,000 men and was not authorized to have tanks. She was not permitted to have an airforce, too, and was allowed only six main naval ships and no submarines at all. The west of the Rhineland and 50 kilometers east of the Rhine River was turned into a demilitarized zone. No German military unit was allowed to be stationed in this zone. The Allies deployed an army of occupation on the west bank of the Rhine for 15 years.
The loss of natural-resources-containing territory would be a severe blow to any attempts by Germany to rebuild her economy. This had great economic consequences on the German population in the 1920’s when a percentage of her population suffered from starvation. Coal from the Saar and Upper Silesia in particular represented a huge economic loss. Combined with the financial penalties linked to reparations, it was clear to that the Allies wanted nothing else but the bankrupcy of Germany. Article 248 of the Treaty of Versailles established that until May 1, 1921, the German Government shall not export, and shall forbid the export or disposal of, gold without the previous approval of the Allied and Associated Powers acting through the Reparation Commission. The total sum of war reparations demanded from Germany amounted to £11,600,000,000.
Map of Treaty of Versailles