How did the Treaty of Versailles contribute to Hitler’s rise of power?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the end, the establishment of the Treaty of Versailles ends up representing one of the saddest chapters in European History.  A treaty that was designed to end all wars actually ended up setting the stage for the worst one that the world has ever seen.  

Hitler was able to point to how "outsiders" sought to destroy Germany.  This became one of his main parts to his platform in gaining power.  Hitler made the point that the greatness and strength of Germany was being weakened by forces from the outside who wanted nothing more than to reduce the formerly strong nation to ruins.  The downfall of Germany perpetrated by outsiders was something he argued that was in evidence through the Treaty of Versailles.  Hitler pointed out that many of the provisions in it were specifically designed to weaken Germany not out of a lasting peace, but out of vengeful retribution.  Hitler made the point that the reappropriation of land, the heavy retributions, the forbidding of arms and business ownership, and the manner in which the Treaty was jammed down the German people's throats all represented points that were antithetical to the approach of "peace."  This resentment was vital for Hitler's success.  

Hitler was able to gain a foothold in German society and government in being able to capitalize on the resentment and frustration that the Treaty instilled in the German people.  Hitler willingly became the outlet for the German people through which they could voice their discontent, so much of it at the Treaty of Versailles.  As the Allied forces began to negotiate with Hitler through the policy of appeasement, it seemed to the German people that Hitler was right with so many of his points, thereby increasing Hitler's claims to power through his critique of the Treaty of Versailles.

mr-e-henderson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to Hitler's masterful rhetoric regarding the Treaty of Versailles being used to tear Germany down (as my colleague has noted), some historians include the actual terms of surrender contributing to the terrible economic conditions present in Germany's Weimar Republic during the 1920s.  While many American scholars cite the Great Depression as being a very adverse economic time in American and even world history, Germany's depression was created much earlier by the Treaty.  Germany lost large swaths of territory from both its eastern Prussian region (the foundation of the modern German state) and had to cede the Alsace-Lorraine region to France.  German war reparations were set at over 130 billion gold Deutsch-marks, a staggering sum of money at any time in history.  The German military was also forced to significantly reduce its forces with severe limitations on certain types of weapons such as warships, machine guns, and airplanes.

The war debts combined with the loss of industries located in the ceded regions and Germany's significant shortages of basic necessities in everyday life induced the Great Depression early in Germany.  Throughout the 1920s, Germans faced massive unemployment and hunger.  Hitler's remarks regarding the Treaty of Versailles would have been coupled with promises of work and food, giving Germans a powerful psychological message, certainly.