Treaty of Versailles Questions and Answers

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How did the Treaty of Versailles lead to WW2 less than 20 years later?

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The 1919 Treaty of Versailles dealt harshly with Germany. The nation was forced to give up several territories, such as Alsace-Lorraine. Germany ceded this land to France, Belgium, Poland, and other nations. It also had to give up its colonies.

Germany also had to demilitarize and drastically reduce the size of its army. It was forced to make staggeringly high reparation payments. Perhaps worst of all, it was forced to accept all blame for the war, a stipulation most Germans found humiliating and unreasonable. When Germany balked at signing the treaty, England threatened to blockade its ports so that it could not get food. The country had already suffered a traumatizing period of starvation from blockades during the war that killed approximately half a million people, so the threat caused the weary Germans to capitulate and sign the treaty.

It is not hard to understand that the majority of the German people felt angry and humiliated by a treaty they believed was arrogant and unjust. Far right parties, most notably the new National Socialist (Nazi) Party, made the most of the German people's resentment of the treaty and spread the idea that it was orchestrated by Jews. When the skilled orator and demagogue Adolf Hitler rose to lead the Nazi party, he expounded relentlessly on the need for Germans to reject this treaty and the humiliation it represented.

The drastic reduction in the German army contributed to unemployment and unrest among war veterans and young men. In a militaristic state, a career in the armed forces was a highly respected way for young men without money or connections to make a life for themselves. With that avenue cut off for most, many disaffected young men joined freikorps (free corps) groups such as the Nazi brownshirts, funneling their energy into generating political unrest.

While Hitler did not rise to power solely on the basis of the Versailles Treaty, it was a significant factor. Its restrictions provided him with a core group of unemployed and angry young men who supported his rise to power. Further, Hitler positioned himself as the messianic leader who would lead Germany to rise above the treaty and regain its power, dignity, and territory. Once he seized power, a second war was inevitable, as Hitler had every intention on making good on his promises to restore German power and grow its territory.

Had the Allies treated Germany more fairly after the war, it is unlikely that a dangerous demagogue like Hitler would have been able to power.

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