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

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The Treaty of Versailles led to World War II because its terms punished Germany so harshly. The terms of the treaty upset Germans and had numerous damaging effects on their country, which caused Germans to be receptive of Hitler and the Nazi party's goals of restoring Germany to its former glory by conquest of its adversaries.


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Scott David eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is little doubt that the Treaty of Versailles had a profound influence in drawing Germany towards World War II. To put it simply, many Germans found the treaty an insult and a burden imposed upon them. Germany had lost territory and colonies. It had limitations placed upon its military and was forced to accept responsibility for the war (not to mention the onerous reparations payments it would be forced to pay). With these factors alone, it should not be surprising that, in the years that followed, Germany would be the site of numerous extremist groups and parties and that an ideology...

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davegibson1 | Student

While it may not be completely fair to say that the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, directly led to the worldwide conflagration of World War II, many of the sanctions imposed upon Germany certainly laid the groundwork for the rise of an ultra-nationalist leader, such as Adolf Hitler, along with the acceptance by the German people of his stated goals for Germany.

Some of the more humiliating punishments placed upon Germany by the Treaty include the loss of 20,000 square miles of territory ceded to Poland, which included the Baltic Sea port of Danzig; the recognition of the newly formed nation of Czechoslovakia, which also took land from Germany; and returned the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine to France.

In fact, under the Treaty, more than 25,000 square miles of German land was taken by the Allied powers. Also, approximately, 7 million Germans basically found themselves in new countries, as a result of the Treaty.

The limits imposed upon the German military were, perhaps, even more humiliating. Germany's armed forces were to be limited to no more than 100,000 personnel; among other ships the mighty German navy was forced to surrender eight battleships, more than forty destroyers, and all submarines, or U-boats were banned.

Additionally, the Treaty completely forbade Germany from possessing an air force.

Economically speaking, the German people were doomed to unrelenting inflation, with no hope of reviving their industrial capacity, along with the surrender of major coal reserves to France and and a demand of a $5 billion payment in gold to the Allied "Reparation Commission."

The influential British economist, John Maynard Keynes, harshly criticized the punishments and restrictions placed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles in his book "The Economic Consequences of the Peace,"

by saying:

“I believe that the campaign for securing out of Germany the general costs of the war was one of the most serious acts of political unwisdom for which our statesmen have ever been responsible.”

Poverty, national humiliation, the loss of territory and what would have been years of basically foreign rule, all led to the rise of Adolf Hitler (who served as a corporal in WWI, and was twice awarded the Iron Cross for bravery) and the Nazi Party.

As soon as Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he began rebuilding the military, thus defying the Treaty, and, of course, eventually began retaking territory earlier surrendered. He was able to do the latter without a shot being fired due to his argument that 'ethnic' Germans were living in those lands and, as such, being 'persecuted.

However, his bloodless campaign ended on September 1, 1939, when his troops invaded Poland. The military campaign lasted only a few weeks, and on October 8, the annexation of Poland was officially complete, with Soviets controlling Eastern Poland, as they also invaded the country two weeks after the Germans invaded Poland from the West.

Two days after the German invasion began, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, thus beginning the start of what would become known as World War II.

It should be noted that up until the World War II period began, World War I had referred to 'the war to end all wars.'

simpsondublin | Student

The Treaty of Versailles ending WWI was written almost entirely by the Allies. It sought to punish Germany as the aggressor in the war, and contained a number of provisions that France hoped would cripple Germany such that it would prevent the Germans ever again being a threat to France. It stripped Germany of a considerable amount of its territory, severely limited Germany's right to maintain an army or navy to defend itself, and required Germany to pay large war reparations to the Allies.

Among the territory taken from the Germans were the rich provinces of Alsace and Lorraine along the French border. The Saar region, with its plentiful supply of coal, was given to France for fifteen years. Other parts of Germany were given to Poland, (including the Danzig Corridor, which gave Poland an outlet to the sea over what was formerly German soil) Belgium, Denmark, and Lithuania. In addition, all of Germany's colonies were seized.

The Treaty also strictly limited Germany's military. The Army could not exceed 100,000 soldiers and could not have tanks. The Navy could have only 15,000 men and no submarines or large warships. And Germany was allowed no military aircraft.

Perhaps the biggest factor leading to WWII was the large reparations demanded by the Allies. The weight of these payments, especially after the world-wide Depression hit and life in the Wiemar Republic become very difficult, made the German people very bitter against the Allies.

This bitterness was exploited by Adolf Hitler, who was able to convince many Germans that the German military were never actually defeated on the battlefield, but were rather betrayed by enemies at home. His ill-fated crusade to eliminate those 'enemies' and restore Germany's territories and military greatness led directly to WWII.