How did the Treaty of Versailles punish Germany after World War I?  

The Treaty of Versailles punished Germany after World War I by forcing them to pay massive war reparations, cede territory, limit the size of their armed forces, and accept full responsibility for the war. Most historians believe that the overly harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles were a contributing factor in the rise of the Nazi party and the outbreak of World War II only a few decades later.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Treaty of Versailles has been given this name because it was the outcome of negotiations at the end of World War I, which were signed in the Palace of Versailles in France on 28th of June, 1919. Whilst it was hailed across the world as an amazing feat of negotiation, bringing peace to the world by putting an official end to the horrors of World War I, the reaction in Germany to what they call the “Versailler Vertrag” couldn’t have been more different. Yes, of course many people in Germany were also grateful and relieved that the war was finally over. However, soon the realization settled in that the Treaty of Versailles was anything but a fair settlement for all parties involved.

The main questionable part of the Treaty of Versailles was the fact that it forced Germany to accept full responsibility for World War I. This obviously did not sit well with the Germans, who very much felt that it had not just been solely their fault at all. You can see how much the Germans were upset by this, when you consider the fact that this clause, Article 231, was often referred to as Schandklausel in German, meaning the “clause of shame.” In fact, the Treaty of Versailles itself was often referred to as the Schandvertrag, the “treaty of shame,” by Germans, who felt treated very unfairly and victimized as a result of this.

Whilst Article 231 formed more of a psychological punishment of Germany, through public humiliation and shaming, there were also some other aspects of the Treaty of Versailles, which were more of physical nature. For example, the Treaty of Versailles meant loss of considerable amounts of money for Germany, given that it required Germany to pay reparations to the Allied Powers.

Furthermore, Germany also lost a lot of its territory: in total, Germany lost 25,000 square miles of its original territory. This was not only a punishment for the German government, but for the German people themselves, given that many of them lost their homes as a result of these measures.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The presence of the desire to punish Germany was evident from the start of the process in drafting the Treaty of Versailles.  On one hand, President Wilson actually sought to create a set of terms which was more benevolent to Germany.  Yet, in order to secure the support of Britain and France, there had to be more of a punitive tone in the terms of the treaty.  Since Wilson needed their support, and this was their price, he ended up acquiescing.  The terms of demanding war reparations from Germany, preventing future rearmament, and ensuring that there was a significant land loss as a result helped to punish Germany, as it was seen as a step to prevent Germany from exercising such aggression in the future.  In reality, what ended up transpiring was that the Treaty helped to solidify and consolidate German resentment to the point where the Treaty became a symbol of all who stood against Germany, and, in the process, starting the Second World War.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Versailles Peace Conference was dominated by President Wilson, George Clemenceau of France, and Vittorio Orlando of Italy. While the conference held discussions on the creation of a League of Nations and the principle of self determination for individual nations it was clear that many European nations wanted the aggressor Germany punished. During the conference President Wilson found out that there were secret treaties made between several European nations at the start of the war indicating that the European powers upon their victory had already decided upon Germany's fate. The European powers demanded reparations, land, and total disarmament. The mindset was to not only to have Germany declare its defeat, it was to place Germany naked upon the hill for all the world to stare and point their fingers.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Treaty of Versailles was designed mostly to punish Germany, reflecting the bitter and vengeful feelings that Britain and France felt towards their World War I enemy.  It took away the German empire by seizing its colonies, and it limited the German Army to a 100,000 man security force.  There would be no German navy or air force.  The Rhineland had to be demilitarized, and worst of all, Germany was required to pay a $40 billion reparations bill to the Allies for starting the war.

This bill wrecked the German economy in the 1920s and led to the economic and political conditions that created Adolf Hitler.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It did this in a lot of ways.  Generally speaking, it took away territory and goods from Germany and it made them pay what were called reparations for the war.  It reduced the size of their military,  Finally, it made them admit that the war was all their fault, even though you could really argue that it was not.

The Treaty took a lot of land away from Germany.  This included land in Europe as well as colonies (including the tiny island in Micronesia where I grew up).

It also reduced the size of their armed forces and told them they were only supposed to be defensive.

It made Germany pay huge sums of money to the other countries to make up for allegedly causing the war.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Illustration of a paper plane soaring out of a book

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial