99 years ago, in a palace 10 miles outside of Paris, a group of men would make decisions on paper known as the Treaty of Versailles. Those decisions would pave the way for the next 26 years. The clear majority of society is still in shock and enraged at the mention of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi’s. The pain and destruction he believed in and those that believed in carrying out the orders that caused it; it is unfathomable to most. At one point in time, Adolf Hitler was the best idea Germany had. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles created an environment for Germany that allowed the Nazi Party to rise as a solution to their social, economic, and political problems.
Money served to be a great stressor in post WWI Germany economy. To include three major issues that would breed convincing topics in Hitler’s future speeches: reparations of the Treaty of Versailles, inflation due to continued money printing, and both of which sucker punching Germany in the jaw during the Great Depression. The Treaty of Versailles stripped Germany of a considerable amount of territory, cut the armed forces and operational resources, and imposed immense reparation payments on the postwar German government. Around $63 billion in reparations, later lowered to $33 billion (roughly $490 billion in current currency) to the Allies. Due to the war guilt cause in the Treaty, the Germans accepted full responsibility for starting the war. The terms that were imposed on the government, Weimar Republic, that lead Germany postwar contributed to the toxic political atmosphere and enabled the rise of extremists like the Nazi party. From Article 232 of the Treaty, The Allied and Associated Governments, however, require, and Germany undertakes, that she will make compensation for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allied and Associated Powers and to their property during the period of the belligerency of each as an Allied or Associated Power against Germany by such aggression by land, by sea and from the air, and in general all damage.
Many political leaders saw the faults of the Treaty and seemingly predicted its ultimate outcome. 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. 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. Alfred Lord Milner, the British Colonial Secretary called the Treaty of Versailles the peace to end peace.
The Treaty placed a lot of stress on military and defense resources. All of the ships in Germany’s mercantile marine were to be given to the Allies and ordered that Germany must build ships for the Allies in the years to come. Germany was allowed an Army of 100,000 and a Navy of 15,000. Germany was not allowed an Air Force, armored cars, tanks, heavy weaponry, submarines, or fighting aircraft. The treaty also forbade the import of war materials into Germany. The treaty also forbade the import of war materials into Germany.
The treaties of post-World War One also redrew the borders of Europe. The former Austro-Hungarian Empire formed into states such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Pre-war there were a smaller number of great powers, while post-war there was a larger number of smaller powers. With this, the balance of power was unstable.
The Versailles Treaty also included an agreement for the League of Nations, the international organization that Woodrow Wilson had hoped would maintain peace among the nations of Europe and the rest of the world. However, the U.S. Senate would refuse to endorse the Versailles Treaty due to the opposition to the League, which left the organization seriously weakened without the support of America or its military.
Meanwhile, Germany’s economic downfall that was exacerbated by the heavy burden of the reparations and inflation, which only further weakened the government and provided a lasting hatred of the Treaty of Versailles. The Nazi Party and other radical groups came to rise during the early 1920’s and 1930’s with the promise to overturn the harsh requirements and build Germany into a major European power once again.
Prior to the First World War, Germany’s economy had relied on three major income sources: overseas commerce and trade, iron and coal, and the transport and tariff system. The provisions the Treaty placed on the economy would affect each of those. Germany was also an important part of the European trading system. Germany was the largest source of supply to Russia and Italy, while being the second largest source of supply to Britain and France. Without being able to transport goods to mentioned countries or having the ability to transport at all, Germany then had to pay for trade to be carried to and from other nationswhile they were already in debt paying reparations. The Treaty of Versailles hindered this by taking away Germany’s means of transporting goods to these nations.
The loss of Alsace-Lorraine to France in turn meant the loss of ore-fields for Germany. These ore-fields contained 75% of Germany’s iron-ore. The Saar Basin and Upper Silesia, which were given to Poland and France in the Treaty, also contained a majority of Germany’s coal fields. The Germans were also required to deliver millions of tons of coal to Belgium, Italy, and France as part of their reparations.
Not only were the people of Germany angry at the new list of restrictions, but they were also angry at the political leaders that abandoned the country as soon as the armistice was created. Hitler preyed on the pain and anger of postwar Germany and used it as fuel to support the Nazi Party. In 1932, at the beginning of his campaign, Hitler gave a speech that would lead way into the Nazi’s rise to power. And who would deny that when everything in Germany is falling apart and in decline, when both the economy and political life are grinding to a standstill or are already at an end, one single organization [Nazi party] has enjoyed an unheard of and astonishing upswing?. Through many forms of propaganda, Hitler provided a solution to their struggles and a new confidence the German people had gone so many years without. To include propaganda influences in film, architecture, novels, and even music. In the diary of Victor Klemperer, a Jewish man that lived in Germany from 1933-1941, he shares detailed experiences of the entirety of the war and the rise of the Nazi party. But here I saw for the first time with my own eyes that we really are entirely at the mercy of the Party dictatorship, of the “Third Reich,” that the Party no longer makes any secret of its absolute power.
When Hitler became chancellor in 1933, he was able to rid of the Weimar Republic and begin his own intentions of rebuilding Germany in his image. In March 1935, he announced the restoration of enlistment and the expansion of the German army. In June 1935, he created the Naval Pact with Britain, which allowed the German Naval strength to expand to 35% of the British Naval establishment. Hitler continued to regain German territory, resources, industries that had been lost due to the Treaty of Versailles and reunite the German people. In March 1938, he was able to partly reunite Germany by annexing Austria in the Anschluss. In September 1938, his success continued when Germany was given the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia in the Munich Agreement.
Continuing down his fast-moving timeline, the final straw that was in 1939. Germany invaded Poland which kicked off the war in Europe. The German armed forces were especially successful in the early years of the war due to an attack technique known as Blitzkrieg. General Erwin Rommel’s journal excerpts from The Rommel Papers provides a behind the scenes look at the use of Blitzkrieg by the 7th Panzer Division as it crashed through the Belgian defenses into France in 1940. The people in the houses were rudely awoken by the din of our tanks, the clatter and roar of tracks and engines. Troops lay bivouacked beside the road, military vehicles stood parked in farmyards and in some places on the road itself. Civilians and French troops, their faces distorted with terror, lay huddled in the ditches, alongside hedges and in every hollow beside the road. We passed refugee columns, the carts abandoned by their owners, who had fled in panic into the fields. On we went, at a steady speed, towards our objective. Every so often a quick glance at the map by a shaded light and a short wireless message to Divisional H.Q. to report the position and thus the success of 25th Panzer Regiment. Every so often a look out of the hatch to assure myself that there was still no resistance and that contact was being maintained to the rear. The flat countryside lay spread out around us under the cold light of the moon. We were through the Maginot Line! It was hardly conceivable. Twenty-two years before we had stood for four and a half long years before this self-same enemy and had won victory after victory and yet finally lost the war. And now we had broken through the renowned Maginot Line and were driving deep into enemy territory. It was not just a beautiful dream. It was reality.”
The war continued to progress, but the hard charging path Hitler was on would soon take on a slower speed. The war in Europe was lost with Germany, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party were isolated and defeated before they could continue the anti-Semitic goals of completely killing the Jewish population. If history had taken a different turn of events, the world would be much different than it is today. If the Treaty of Versailles hadn’t placed the pressure of the extreme reparations on one single country, attacking their social, political, and economical resources Germany would not have been in such a vulnerable position as to open their minds to Hitler. Without the requirements of the Treaty of Versailles, the Nazi Party would not have risen to success in World War Two.