The Treaty of Versailles



The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles, five years to the day after Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Prince Franz Ferdinand. The delegates gathered round a horseshoe-shaped table in front of which “like a guillotine,” as Harold Nicolson noted in his diary – was the table for the signatures. Mueller and Bell, the ashen-faced German delegates, signed the Treaty at 12:03 precisely, anxious to finish their ordeal. As other delegates formed a queue to sign, a thunderous gun salute boomed outside and in the distance the cheering of the Parisian crowd could be heard. With the signing completed, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau of France declared “La seance est levee,” and the German delegates, according to Nicolson, were “conducted like prisoners from the dock, their eyes still fixed upon some distant point of the horizon.”

The treaty consisted 440 separate articles, most of them beginning with the words “Germany renounces.” Germany was required to surrender Alsace-Lorraine and her colonies and pay reparations amounting to 33 billion dollars. The Saarland was placed under the supervision of the League of Nations, to be controlled and exploited by France for fifteen years, and German territory west of the Rhine was demilitarized. A Polish state was established and given most of Posen, Upper Silesia, and a corridor to the Baltic, separating East Prussia from the rest of Germany. Danzig became a free city. The German army was to consist of not more than 100,000 officers and men and the General Staff and air force were abolished. The manufacturing and use of tanks, planes, submarines and poison gas was forbidden.

The most controversial part of the treaty was Article 231, the so-called “war guilt” clause which stated that: “The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed on them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.”

The Treaty of Versailles satisfied few, except the rulers of the succession states of Eastern Europe. It was too harsh for the British, too soft for the French, and not idealistic enough for the Americans. The Germans rejected the entire concept of a dictated peace which underlay the peace conference.

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