The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles

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Redactie 11 November 2016 31

In January 1919, representatives of 32 countries travelled to Paris to re-draw the map of the post-war world, and to discuss what was to happen to the losers of the war. Each country brought its own agenda to the negotiating table. Belgium and Serbia were hoping for reparations, Polish and Irish nationalists sought recognition for their countries, the colonies of Germany and other countries saw an opportunity for sovereignty. Ultimately, the conference would be dominated by the visions of the ‘Big Three’. Given the very different views of the American president Wilson, the British prime minister Lloyd George and the French prime minister Georges Clemenceau, the negotiations were not exactly a walk down the Champs-Élysées.

France was eager to see Germany muzzled and made to pay hefty reparations, while Great Britain, looking for a trading partner on the continent, needed Germany to bounce back. Wilson had prepared an impressive fourteen-step plan that focused on the autonomy of states and the founding of a League of Nations. Despite high tensions and added pressure from the press - around 700 journalists had descended on Paris - the three heads of state eventually reached a compromise. Germany was to reduce its army, return great swaths of territory and pay high reparations. A League of Nations was formed from which Germany was excluded. The German government tried to oppose these decisions, but the Allies stood firm.

 

VERSAILLES Treaty_of_Versailles_Signing,_Hall_of_Mirrors, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATreaty_of_Versailles_Signing%2C_Hall_of_Mirrors.jpg

The Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Hall of Mirrors, 28 June 1919.

 

Five years to the day after the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles was thronged with hundreds of dignitaries. Two comparatively unknown ministers from the recently formed German government - the previous one had fallen because of the treaty - joined them reluctantly to sign the peace settlement. Though it would be watered down somewhat in the years that followed, the Germans hated the Diktat of Versailles. In the thirties, Adolf Hitler capitalised on this sentiment by presenting his Nazi party as an alternative.