World War I was a great shock for the world. It left much of Europe devastated, ruined, in debt, and, what is more, the victors looking forward to taking a revenge. While the delegates of the Allies making the treaty should have been worried about the future of Europe, they allowed themselves to become preoccupied with worries about borders, power, and making Germany as weak as possible (Bessel 28). The Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, was supposed to create peace but in the end what it caused was another disaster. The treaty forced Germany to lose territory, caused serious economic problems which were only worsened by the depression in 1930s, left many Germans outside of the country. All these factors, in turn, created German resentment towards the Western world. The effect of the Treaty of Versailles weakened the government of Germany and that, along with all the other effects, allowed for the rise of fascism and Hitler in Germany after World War I. All these factors added up to the beginning of World War II and arguably they all were caused by the Treaty of Versailles. Thus, one may arguably say that the Treaty of Versailles was the major cause of World War II.
The provisions of the treaty were specifically aimed at making Germany as weak as possible. Certain parts of the treaty took away German territory and distributed it to other countries or the territory was used to form new countries (Feuchtwanger 42). Areas like the Saar Basin and Upper Silesia, which were important to the German economy, were given to France and Poland, respectively (Feuchtwanger 42). Poland also received Danzig (Feuchtwanger 43). Other territories that were ceded included Alsace-Lorraine to France, Eupen-Malmedy to Belgium, North Schleswig to Denmark, and West Prussia, which became know as the Polish Corridor, to Poland (Feuchtwanger 43). All the overseas colonies of Germany were also ceded to the Allies. The Treaty of Versailles also created the smaller nation of Austria in place of what had been Austria-Hungary before the war and the new nation of Czechoslovakia from German land (Feuchtwanger 47). The Treaty of Versailles weakened Germany’s means of transportation. It put Germany’s river system under foreign control. Along with Poland getting the area of Danzig, the Treaty of Versailles gave it control of the railroads and free use of the port there (Bessel 34). In addition the treaty put restrictions on Germany’s military. Under the treaty Germany wasn’t allowed an air force, armored cars, tanks, heavy guns, submarines, or dirigibles (Bessel 35). Finally, the Treaty of Versailles laid Germany solely responsible for World War I and ordered that Germany would pay the entire cost of it through an undefined amount of reparations (Bessel 37). While the Treaty of Versailles was successful in making Germany weak, its provisions would later lead to World War II.
Although the Allied delegates thought they had successfully ended the World War I and had prevented the German threat with the Treaty of Versailles, they were wrong. The treaty that they had created was a weak one. Many political figures recognised this and predicted the horrible results to come later on. For example, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, a French General who had been involved in World War I, said of the treaty, ‘This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.’ (Hughes 15) A South African statesman named Jan Christian Smuts wrote to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George: ‘This treaty breathes a poisonous spirit of revenge, which may yet scorch the fair face – not of a corner of France, but of Europe.’ (Hughes 15) Alfred Lord Milner, the British Colonial Secretary called the Treaty of Versailles ‘the peace to end peace’. (Hughes 15)
While everyone had a reaction to the treaty, no reaction could be compared to that of Germans. They viewed the treaty as vicious and unjust (Feuchtwanger 63). These feelings derived not only from the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, but from the fact that the German people had believed that the treaty would be along the lines of President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which called for much fairer treatment of Germany (Feuchtwanger 65). However, the treaty that they read, the Treaty of Versailles, was vastly different from those Wilson’s Fourteen Points. German outrage was also geared towards their government because they were appalled by the government’s acceptance of such a treaty (Feuchtwanger 69). This feeling of outrage would later turn to a feeling of resentment of the Europeans that made the treaty and of the government which accepted it. The Germans’ resentment would not go away as they blamed all their economic difficulties on the Treaty of Versailles and viewed themselves as a country surrounded by revengeful enemies (Bessel 53). The Treaty of Versailles caused German resentment that Hitler used very much to gain support and which led to the beginning to World War II.
The Treaty of Versailles had a devastating effect on the German economy. Before World War I the German economy had been dependent on three things: overseas commerce and trade, iron and coal, and its transport and tariff system (Bessel 74). The treaty’s provisions harmed each of these in some way. The loss of Germany’s overseas colonies, mercantile marine, and transport systems to other nations, previously mentioned, obviously affected the economy significantly.
The economic problems in Germany caused by the Treaty of Versailles were hard on the German people and got even worse during the depression of the 1930s (Bessel 98). The treaty caused unemployment, poverty, and famine. The Treaty of Versailles not only took away territory away from Germany, it took property away from Germans. In those areas that were ceded to other countries the German owned properties had no security, meaning that German industries and land could be taken from their owners easily and without any compensation (Bessel 102). This angered the German people and it also made them more susceptible in Germany’s injured economy. The reparations part of the Treaty of Versailles caused the collapse of currency and inflation in Germany and with these two events the German people’s savings were wiped out (Bessel 102).
The Treaty of Versailles also led to a vast increase in unemployment in Germany. The loss of its coal resources and Germany’s inability to import an adequate amount of raw materials meant that many industries could not survive and that put many German people out of work.
Furthermore, the loss of land caused by the Treaty of Versailles was a monumental issue in German minds. Not only did the loss of territory mean a loss of resources and industry for Germany it meant that the German people were no longer one, which was a good thing to the Allies, but an outrage to the German people themselves. With the loss of lands to other nations and the creation of new nations millions of Germans were left outside of Germany as a result of the Treaty of Versailles.
The Treaty of Versailles also caused problems in Germany in respect to the democratic government, the Weimar Republic. The German people accepted the Weimar Republic after World War I because they thought it would encourage the delegates making the Treaty of Versailles to be more loyal to them, but when their plan failed the Weimar Republic became very unpopular (Feuchtwanger 110). When the German people saw the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles they were outraged at the government for accepting such a document. As the effects of the Treaty of Versailles began to show in Germany, for instance the inflation, the unemployment, and the cut in wages, the German people became even more hostile toward the government that had allowed it to happen. Over time Germans did not regard the Weimar Republic as a legitimate government.
Hitler and the Treaty of Versailles, along with the beginning of World War II, are all directly connected. The Treaty of Versailles led to the rise of fascism and Hitler in Germany and to the beginning of World War II. Hitler established the Nazi Party in 1919 and in the following years his number of supporters grew steadily. Hitler took advantage of the German resentment of the Treaty of Versailles. He was an ardent nationalist as were many Germans, as a result of how weak the Treaty of Versailles had made their nation. The national anthem of the Reich, ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles’ drew in the German people who felt that their nation needed help out of the abyss that the Treaty of Versailles had put it in (Hughes 23). The German people were calling out for the end of effects of the Treaty of Versailles and the end to the Weimar Republic, and these were the main points of Nazi propaganda (Hughes 25). Hitler was a very charismatic person who was able to gain massive support by denouncing the Treaty of Versailles and the Weimar Republic that the German people hated so much. The German people also joined Hitler’s ranks because they could not find jobs and because of the promises of the Nazi party. The German people believed that he would and on January 30, 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Finally, the last step created by the Treaty of Versailles on the road to World War II was complete.
The steps that Hitler took that actually started World War II were all attempts to reverse what the Treaty of Versailles had created. The Treaty of Versailles had created economic problems by demanding reparations, diminishing Germany’s necessary trade, taking away resources and industry, and causing inflation and unemployment. The Treaty of Versailles separated the German people by taking German territory, and an unpopular government was put into place because of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler was working to fix all of these problems when he took the actions that began World War II. He wanted to relieve Germany from its democratic government, he wanted to make Germany powerful economically, militarily, and geographically again, and he wanted to unite the German people. He got rid of the unpopular Weimar Republic when he became Chancellor in 1933 (Bessel 81). In March 1935 Hitler took steps to begin to restore the military power that the Treaty of Versailles had taken away (Bessel 82). Hitler then worked to regain the German territory, resources, industries that had been lost due to the Treaty of Versailles and reunite the German people, a problem that was also created by the treaty. This reunification of the German people was supposed to be made through the annexation of Austria and Poland, and after the latter event World War II began.
Summing up, The Treaty of Versailles created major problems in Germany that led to German resentment and their desire to erase what the treaty had done to their country. The restrictions that the Treaty of Versailles put on Germany led to economic destruction, an unsatisfactory government, a radical population, and a separated people. The German people could have nothing but hate for the treaty and its effects that destroyed their country. The resentment and desire to restore Germany as it once was created by the Treaty of Versailles led to the rise of Hitler and fascism in Germany. Hitler’s actions, supported by the German people, to erase the restrictions put on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles led to the beginning of World War II. If the Allies’ delegates creating the Treaty of Versailles had been more concerned with the future of Europe rather than the punishment of Germany, World War II may have never happened. But with the harshness of the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles, World War II was inevitable because it was natural for German people to desire the return of their nation to power and unity. That is why, it is believed that the Treaty of Versailles was the major cause of World War II.
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