The Treaty of Versailles

Representatives from the victorious countries in World War One met at the Palace of Versailles to finalise what would happen next in Europe. It was partly to decide how the damage done by the war could be repaired, both physically and to a degree, emotionally. It was also an attempt to ensure peace for Europe in the future.

Pretty impressive location for any meeting!
Pretty impressive location for any meeting!




  • Alsace-Lorraine was given back to France
  • West Posen and Upper Silesia were given to Poland
  • The Saarland (full of coal fields) was placed under the control of the League of Nations (a bit like the United Nations that we have now) for 15 years
  • Germany lost 13% of its land


  • Article 231 stated that Germany took full responsibility for causing war


  • The winning countries demanded compensation for the damage caused by the war – known as reparations. 1921 the Reparations Commission decided on an amount of £6,600 million paid in annual installments


  • No aircraft nor submarines
  • Navy reduced to 6 battleships and 15,000 sailors
  • Army reduced to 100,000 men
  • Rhineland demilitarised – no German soldiers were allowed in this territory that bordered France. Allied troops to occupy the area for 15 yrs


The vast majority of Germans understood that there would be consequences for their part in the Great War, but they believed the terms would be reasonable. They themselves had removed the Kaiser who had been the driving force behind Germany’s role in the war. Furthermore, the American President, Woodrow Wilson, had published ‘Fourteen Points’ that suggested the treaty would be fair and mostly focused on ensuring peace between nations in the future.

The first reason for opposition was therefore shock at the harshness of the treaty. It’s severity came as a surprise to the German nation. Berlin returned to mob violence and German newspapers published a flurry of articles and cartoons protesting about the treaty.

A somewhat sinister German cartoon about the treaty
A somewhat sinister German cartoon about the treaty
French president Clemenceau as a Vampire - very famous German cartoon about the Treaty
French president Clemenceau as a Vampire – very famous German cartoon about the Treaty
German cartoon
British cartoon
American cartoon
American cartoon

treaty cartoon 2

Cartoon trying to show that the "peacemakers" at Versailles were dismissive of the impact the treaty would have on the vulnerable
Cartoon trying to show that the “peacemakers” at Versailles were dismissive of the impact the treaty would have on the vulnerable

The range of cartoons show that even in Britain and the US it was acknowledged that the Treaty of Versailles was strict, if not harsh. The German government, this new Weimar Republic, had no choice but to sign because if they didn’t there would be an Allied occupation of Germany. By signing the treaty they could at least remain in charge of their own country. However the German people did not see it like this. They blamed the politicians of the new republic for signing the treaty and couldn’t accept the point that there had been no choice. This feeling of betrayal was used by opponents of the Weimar republic, including Hitler and the Nazi Party, to encourage the German people to turn against the government. The Allies possibly didn’t realise, or didn’t care,  just how much they’d undermined the position of the new republic in the eyes of the German public.

The people of Germany hated the treaty for many reasons:

  • No German representative invited to the conference – the treaty was a ‘diktat’ (dictated peace) – no opportunity to negotiated or put forward German views
  • Reduction in German military would destroy their status as a great power
  • Limited military would leave Germany unable to defend herself if attacked
  • Occupation of the Rhineland by Allied (mainly British and French) troops was humiliating
  • The war-guilt clause was resented as to the Germans they had entered the war as self-defence and to blame them for starting it all was too simplistic a judgment
  • The loss of territory robbed Germany of important industrial areas such as iron and steel in Alsace-lorraine and the coalfields in the Saar
  • Loss of territory to Poland created the Polish corridor that split Germany
  • Germany had suffered great losses itself as a result of the war and had to rebuild just like other nations involved. It was in no position to make hefty reparations payments with 10% of industry and 15% agricultural land lost

Though you won’t be tested on whether the treaty was fair or not, it is interesting to note that there were many critics of the Treaty even at the time who believed the decisions were made for the wrong reasons and were simply storing up troubles for the future. A famous economist in Britain called John Maynard Keynes (pronounced KAYnes for some reason) said the Allied leaders were focused on revenge and that “The victors shifted their unbearable financial burdens onto the shoulders of the defeated”. He felt he couldn’t have anything to do with the treaty so resigned from the British delegation who went to Versailles. There were, of course, others who believed the treaty was the right and only thing to do.