How did the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression contribute to Hitler's rise?

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Hitler used the dissatisfaction of the German people with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the economic hardships of the Great Depression to win over his countrymen with promises of German glory and prosperity, and this aided his rise to power.

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The Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919, delineated the terms of peace between the Allies and Germany at the close of World War I. The terms were humiliating and economically devastating for Germany, which had to accept full responsibility for the war, give up part of its territory to the conquering nations, demilitarize, limit its army and navy, and pay an enormous amount in reparations. This embittered the German people, who felt betrayed by the Allied countries.

Adolf Hitler became the head of the National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi Party, in 1921. Among key party platforms were the pride of the German people and dissatisfaction with the terms of the Versailles Treaty. After the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923, Hitler began to work within the electoral process to gain power and influence.

The Great Depression, which began in 1929, quickly spread around the world. It hit particularly hard in Germany. Hitler took advantage of the economic upheaval and the desperation of the German people to offer an agenda of German pride and prosperity. As a result, the Nazis captured a significant number of seats in the German Parliament, called the Reichstag. In January of the following year of 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, and the Nazis quickly moved to ban all other political parties and control all facets of German life.

We see, then, that Hitler used the disgruntlement of the German people with the Treaty of Versailles to advance the program of the Nazi Party through propaganda. When the Great Depression caused so much hardship among the German People, they looked for an alternative to the government in power, and Hitler and the Nazi Party were there with promises of glory and prosperity for the German people. Once Hitler had power, he forcibly eliminated opposition, at which point he and the Nazis were free to do whatever they wanted.

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The Great Depression and the Versailles Treaty enabled Hitler's rise to power in Germany. Germany signed the Versailles Treaty under duress; the British navy still blockaded the country, and if it did not sign the treaty, hostilities would have reopened at once. Germany was forced to assume all blame for the war—a war which it did not start. Germany also lost valuable industrial sections of the country to France, and some of its eastern territory was lost to recreate Poland. The German people, who were told all the way up to the end that they were winning the war, were in shock. Many rightist groups felt as though they had been sold out from within, and they sought to blame the Communists and Jews for capitulating. Hitler was able to use this antisemitism when he came to power.

The Great Depression was also key in Hitler's rise to power. Britain and France were forced to turn inward during the Depression, and they did not devote a lot of energy to international events such as Hitler's remilitarization. Germany was one of the largest economies in Europe before World War I. This economy was now in shambles thanks to the Versailles reparations and the sheer number of war casualties suffered by Germany. German leaders sought to print more Reichsmarks in order to pay for the war, but this only led to hyperinflation. The people grew desperate and hungry. Hitler promised to make Germany a great nation again and put Germans to work. His national Socialist program did indeed put people to work, but many of them went to work in plants making munitions.

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The Versailles Treaty and the Great Depression contributed to the rise of Hitler as the leader of Germany.  Hitler and many Germans were outraged at the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty. This treaty required Germany to pay $33 billion in reparations to the Allies. It required Germany to accept responsibility for the start of World War I even though Germany didn’t start the war. It required Germany to give up some land and to reduce its military to a defensive one. Hitler vowed revenge as he played on feelings of German nationalism.

The terms of the Versailles Treaty led to a huge economic depression in Germany. This doomed the Weimar Republic to fail and created the conditions that allowed Hitler to rise to power. Once in power, he tried to restore German pride by saying no country could disrespect Germany. He vowed to get revenge for how Germany was treated with the terms of the treaty.

As the rest of the world plunged into depression in the very late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, Hitler was able to get away with acts of aggression. Countries like the United States, France, and Great Britain had too many issues to deal with at home. These countries were facing the most serious economic crisis they ever had faced. They couldn’t worry about what Hitler was doing. When Hitler built up his military and then moved it into the Rhineland, these countries were too focused on their economic problems to do anything about it. When Germany took over Austria, the same was true. Thus, the Great Depression provided the cover for Hitler to carry out these illegal actions.  It prevented the Allies from doing much about these actions. The Versailles Treaty and the Great Depression contributed to Hitler’s rise to power and his subsequent aggressive actions.

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How did the Treaty of Versailles, as it applied to Germany, lead to Hitler’s rise to power?

The Treaty of Versailles put into place some of the conditions that allowed a racist demagogue like Hitler to rise to power. First, the terms of the treaty were humiliating, even to liberal Germans, because the treaty forced Germany to take total blame for the war. Second, the treaty laid most of the burden of paying for the war on the Germans. Third, it took territory away from Germany that many felt was rightfully theirs, and finally, it severely restricted the size of the German army. The last restriction worked especially well for Hitler, as, prior to this, the army had been a highly respected and available path for young men with no money or connections to get ahead in the world. Without a robust army, young men who wanted a future felt stymied in dead-end, low-status jobs or no jobs at all, making them ripe for recruitment to far right para-military groups, like Hitler's brownshirts, that promised them a better future.

Many Germans were stunned by the defeat. Because it made no sense to them that such a power as Germany had been brought to its knees, they were open to ideas that Hitler and others spread, such as the notion that the Versailles treaty was the result of a "Jewish backstab." Germans who felt keenly and angrily the loss of status the treaty represented often responded positively to Hitler and his desire to assert German power and superiority.

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How did the Treaty of Versailles, as it applied to Germany, lead to Hitler’s rise to power?

The Treaty of Versailles did not directly lead to Hitler's rise to power. But its terms, which were harsh and punitive toward Germany, did help create a politically toxic environment in Germany that Hitler could exploit, as he did in the early 1930s. The treaty forced Germany to accept sole guilt for the outbreak of World War I, stripped Germany of a great deal of prewar territory, placed major restrictions on the size of its armed forces (but not those of neighboring France) and mandated billions in reparations payments. Germans bitterly resented the Treaty and the new Weimar Republic government that was responsible for signing and ratifying it. Because Germany had surrendered without being invaded by Allied troops, Hitler and others were able to argue that Germany had not truly been defeated, but that its army had been stabbed in the back by those that sought an armistice and ultimately signed the treaty. So the Treaty helped create a powerful sense of victimhood and betrayal that was still quite powerful in the 1930s. 

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How did the Treaty of Versailles contribute to the rise of Hitler in Germany?

The punitive nature of the Treaty of Versailles directly led to the economic conditions that allowed for a demagogue such as Hitler to gain support. First, the so-called Guilt Clause, which forced Germany to claim full responsibility for starting World War One -- when in fact it was a war of multi-lateral aggression -- eviscerated the pride of the German people.

Second, the imposition of trillions of dollars in "war reparations" that the already cash-starved German state was supposed to pay back to the victors drove Germany's economy to collapse, created unprecedented inflation not seen again until modern-day Zimbabwe, and led millions of Germans to acts of unbelievable desperation in order to avoid starvation.

On top of that, the Treaty of Versailles allowed for the Allied occupation of Germany's most productive land (the Rhineland and Sudetenland), and gave disputed territory like Alsace-Lorraine back to the French. The effect of the Treaty was to impoverish and humiliate the German people, create riots in the streets, and leave the government unable to meet its basic obligations, like preserving law and order and providing basic social services. 

In that vacuum of power, both the far left (Communists) and the far right (National Socialists, who became known as the Nazis) gained support and raised well armed militias. Hitler and other Nazi leaders promised a return to greatness, assuaged German humiliation by blaming the loss of the war on socialists and Jews who had "stabbed Germany in the back," and promised that a new social order would restore Germany's economy by confiscating property and money from "undesirable races" that had, according to Hitler, leeched off Germany for centuries.

Had Germany not been punished so severely or been made to take full responsibility for a war that everyone in Europe was responsible for starting, the conditions under which Hitler thrived would simply not have existed. In hindsight, the Treaty of Versailles looks almost like a playbook for the creation of a demagogue. 

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