World War I

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How did the Treaty of Versailles contribute to the start of World War II?

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The Treaty of Versailles led to World War II because its terms punished Germany too severely. The treaty stripped away Germany's land acquisitions, required Germany to pay billions in reparations, and forced them to accept responsibility for World War I. The damaging and lasting effects of the treaty contributed to a economic, social, and political climate that made many Germans receptive to Hitler and the Nazi party's plans to restore Germany to its former glory.

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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 like Nazism would be able to establish itself, push Germany towards an aggressive, militaristic policy, and bring about a second war.

And yet, perhaps the effects of the treaty (and the context surrounding it) were even more pernicious than the above analysis suggests. The key thing to keep in mind is this: the nation state of Germany was originally created as a monarchy, with the King of Prussia being made an emperor. Add to this the conditions in which the republic itself was formed—with the monarch removed, the republic established, and the armistice signed, all in quick succession, even as German troops had yet to be driven fully out of France. And then, for the newly created republic to sign a treaty as onerous and humiliating as the Treaty of Versailles? This chain of events poisoned the new government even as it was formed, because in order to function properly a democracy requires a kind of faith: people need to believe and trust in democratic values and institutions; otherwise these values and institutions lose their legitimacy and weaken. But for many Germans, democracy itself was viewed as suspect, and so anti-democratic and authoritarian political movements found strong groundswells of support. Hitler harnessed this anger and resentment to construct a totalitarian state and push the world towards World War II.

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The Versailles Treaty led to the beginning of World War II in a variety of ways.  First, the German leadership who had to surrender signed the treaty under duress—between the armistice in November 1918 and the signing of the treaty, Britain maintained its blockade of Germany, thus starving millions.  Also, Germany was told that that the treaty had to be accepted without any amendments, or else the war would resume.  In the treaty, Germany lost the province of Alsace-Lorraine and had to pay billions of dollars to France in reparations.  Also, the German army was essentially disbanded, and a lot of its industrial capacity was shipped to France and Belgium in an attempt to pay them back for the war.  Germany also lost territory in the east which it had gained through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  

The German people were outraged by this treaty.  First, there was the shock that they had lost the war; Germany was never invaded and its press glorified the successes its armies had in the field, even when this was not accurate.  The reparations helped to destroy the economy of the Weimar republic and allowed Hitler to come to power by promising to end the Versailles Treaty.  Hitler used part of the Versailles Treaty against the Allies by annexing Austria and the Sudetenland. He claimed that these were German-speaking people who wanted to be reunited with their mother country.  Hitler also used this to invade Poland, which he claimed had German nationalists.  The invasion of Poland is generally accepted as the beginning of World War II.

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The Treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI, led to the start of WWII, less than 20 years later, because of how harshly it treated Germany and how angry Germans were about this. 

When the Treaty of Versailles was written, the Allies (particularly France and England) were very angry at Germany and wanted to punish it as harshly as they could.  They took away all of Germany’s colonies.  They prohibited Germany from having a full military.  They forced Germany to admit all guilt for the war and they required Germany to pay a large amount of money in reparations to the Allies.

After WWI, Germans were very upset about the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.  They felt that the treaty was extremely unfair to them.  Germans wanted to get revenge on the Allies.  In addition, they wanted to make their country strong again.  They felt that it was unfair that they had been deprived of their empire and their ability to have a strong military.

The Germans’ anger about this helped bring Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to power.  Hitler and the Nazis promised that they would make Germany great again.  They said that they knew how to build the country again and make the Allies back down.  Because Germans were so angry about the Treaty, they were willing to accept Hitler and the Nazis even with their radical ideas.

Of course, it was Hitler’s rise to power that brought WWII about.  As Hitler tried to make Germany great again, he eventually went too far and forced the Allies to go to war with Germany.  This was the start of WWII.

So, the Treaty of Versailles’s harsh terms led to German anger.  This anger led to the rise of the Nazis. This rise, led to WWII.  Thus, the Treaty of Versailles led to WWII.

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