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History How culpable is Versailles for Nazi Germany?

Lord Sovereign

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I know a lot about the Versailles treaty was used as propaganda for the Third Reich as justification for its wars, but there does seem to be a growing movement in the historical community who pretend Versailles had little effect, if any at all (which comes off as frankly absurd to me). Which is it? Or, as is usually the case, does the answer lie somewhere in the middle?
 

Morphic Tide

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The single largest issue of it is that it was a conditional surrender, not a peace treaty. There was no negotiation allowed, not a single German involved in writing it, and consequently the phrase for the legalistic assigning of responsibility ended up mistranslated as assigning blame as "the authors of the war". Which did enormous damage to the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic because this was about their first act in international relations.

Said mistranslation also lead to the misconception of the legal basis being "Germany started it" rather than "Germany agrees to pay for it", and thus revisionists the world over looking at the terms in horror set to work showing that Germany was in fact not the one who started it, creating yet more fuel for the "absolutely dogshit conditional surrender" fire that eventually burned the Weimar government to the ground.

Alongside the Imperial German propaganda not allowing the reality of how tattered Germany had gotten to reach the public, making it INCREDIBLY difficult to explain that it was only accepted because there was literally no meaningful chance of repelling a new offensive. In turn meaning that the Weimar Republic ended up being seen as traitors and cowards far more thoroughly than would be the case if it was a more mild treaty or an honest military defeat.

Fundamentally, it fatally poisoned the government that signed it. The fact that enforcing the reparations payment included active interference with reconstruction efforts led to a lot of foreign regrets about it, making what little real bite the treaty had increasingly irrelevant as nobody wished to enforce it.
 

Skallagrim

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Versailles very much was a dictate, not a treaty worthy of that name. (It was a treaty between the victors, but a dictate imposed upon the defeated, without meaningful input from them.) There is no doubt in my mind that the dictate of Versailles made the rise of the Nazis possible, and that without the stipulations of that "treaty", it would have been very difficult -- if not impossible -- for someone like Hitler to have such political success.

Elsewhere on this site, I've discussed my views on an alternative approach to a post-war settlement. Note that my proposal doesn't presume a utopia, and still includes a variety of human rights violations -- not because they are desirable, but because they are inevitable under the messed-up circumstances... and after the Great War, most choices are a matter of choosing that which causes the least suffering (not just in the short term, but also in the long run).

My suggestions, summarised:

-- No reparations whatsoever, and no war guilt assigned. The entire war, essentially, to be regarded as a tragic folly, never to be repeated. (My reasoning is that opening the door for reparations at all will inevitably lead to "But they did this! And they did that! And, and, and...!" -- which means you'll never get that can of worms closed again.)

-- Wilhelm II to abdicate in favour of his son, but the Kaiserreich to otherwise remain politically extant. Keeping the Kaiserreich helps the continuation of stable government, and aids the wider goal of not singling out Germany as the "villain" (because in reality, everybody rushed into the senseless war). Stability of government, combined with not humiliating Germany and not ruining it economically, will be key to preventing communist and national-socialist radicalism from gaining ground.

-- Karl to remain as King of Austria.

-- Pleibiscites on a municipal basis, to get as close to actual ethnically-sound borders as one can get. No quasi-arbitrary lines drawn on maps. Do ensure reasonable territorial contiguity. No weird exclaves, that's asking for trouble. (I do not favour an exception for South Tirol. It must be allowed to stay with Austria, since Italy has no reasonable claim to it at all.)

-- Although it's harsh and no doubt unpopular: forcibly relocate people to their own homeland where it seems necessary to prevent prior bloodshed. All Hungarians sent to Hungary, all Romanians, Slovaks etc. out of Hungary. Similarly, all Germans out of Poland, all Poles out of Germany. The goal of this is to prevent a future conflict by drawing clear lines. If there's just no Hungarians on one side of a certain line, and no Romanians on the other side, then irridentism just becomes a LOT less viable. Same goes for Germans and Poles. (When the ethnic groups in question hate each other with a passion, separating them really is the best. What else can you do? Let the cycle of slaughter and bitter resentment go on? A clean separation prevents future bloodshed, and then relations can gradually normalise.)

-- On that note: no Polish Corridor debacle. Either let Germany keep a coastal strip (inluding Danzig) to connect directly to East Prussia, or expel every single German out of East Prussia and give the whole region to Poland. Either is cruel, but you have to pick one. Settle the matter for good.

-- Likewise, settle the Transylvanian question. Either Hungary gets a strip that connects Hungary proper to the Székely Land (with all Romanians expelled therefrom), or all Hungarians get expelled from Székely Land and the whole region goes to Romania. Again, either option is cruel, but a choice must be made.

-- Independent Chzechia / Bohemia-Moravia (without the Sudetenland, which will vote to join Germany and/or Austria). Similarly independent Slovakia. No artificial Czecho-Slovakian union, which was always going to have issues.

-- No prohibition of German-Austrian unification, but clear stipulation that if it ever happens, it must be via a pleibiscite, with proper procedures and democratic standards well-defined.

-- Definitely no Yugoslavia. Independent Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia. Bosnian Muslims to be thrown under the bus. Serbian/Croatian population transfers where needed, and a definitive border settled upon. Albanians to be expelled from Kosovo, which is to go to Serbia. Montenegro likewise to be included in Serbia. Macedon to be subject to municipal pleibiscites to see what its population wants.

-- Greece to be given its OTL gains in perpetuity, including annexation of the "international zone" around the Sea of Marmara. See this map. The islands held by Italy in OTL also to go to Greece, as well as Cyprus. All Turks to be expelled from all these regions. Greeks, in turn, to be expelled from truncated Turkey.

-- Largest reasonable Armenian state to be created, with Turks and Kurds to be expelled from its confines.

-- Kurdistan (all contiguous Kurdish-majority regions), otherwise, to be handed over to Persia. Turks, Armenians, Arabs etc. to be expelled. Subsequently, Greater Persia to become a valued member of the League of Nations, which will help to hem in the communists.

-- Sunni Arab regions to become one great kingdom under the Hashemites, with LoN backing. Shi'a majority regions, however, to become separate states. Population transfers to be carried out where this would improve stability.

-- Christians in Lebanon to receive a separate state (a mostly coastal region, from Tyre to Tripoli), with others expelled from its confines.

-- Shi'a Muslims in South Lebanon to receive a small state, reaching from just South of Tyre to just North of Haifa, and in the East stretching to include Al-Khalisa (which in OTL became Kiryat Shmona) and touching the North-western coast of Lake Tiberias. Others to be expelled from this region.

-- An Alawite state to be establihed, covering the coastal region from just North of Tripoli to the Turkish border.

-- Potentially, a Druze state and an Assyrian Christian state to be established. (If this is not feasible, these areas to become autonomous regions within Hashemite Arabia and Greater Persia, respectively.)

-- "Syria Palaestina" (essentially the square region Haifa - Lake Tiberias - Dead Sea - Gaza) to become a cosmopolitan Free State accessible to multiple religions, and to be fully neutral by treaty.

-- The Sinai Pensinsula and the Suez Canal region to become a directly administred LoN territory, through which citizens of LoN member states may travel freely for peaceful purposes.

-- All European nations to join in a diplomatic and economic union (a proto-EEC), which should ideally commit itself to sound currency and responsible fiscal policy, to sustainably restore the global economy after the war. Free trade to be established within the bloc; all internal customs duties (and other trade barriers) to be abolished.

-- All European nations, as well as the USA, to join the League of Nations, with no reservations. Full commitment.

-- LoN to adopt a stipulation that if one member ever declares war on another member, the aggressor is automatically expelled, and is understood as having declared war on all members of the LoN.

-- LoN to adopt a stipulation that an attack on one member is an attack on all; that all LoN members will blockade and embargo any nation that is at war with any Lon member; that no separate peace with any enemy may ever be considered.

-- Communist nations to be explicitly banned from membership; all communist regimes to be declared inherently illegitimate; all communist states to be economically blockaded and embargoed, with no exceptions.

-- LoN to commit to defeating the Bolshevik regime. Strictest possible injunctions against any member trying for a separate peace (or any other agreement) with the USSR. Recognition of the Tsarists in exile as the "true Russian government".

-- Aggressive support for non-Bolshevik states on the Russian periphery, e.g. the Caucasian republics, Turkestan, Finland (to be supported in claiming as much of Karelia as possible), the Baltic states, Poland, Belarus (to be carved off Russia if possible), Ukraine (to be carved off Russia if possible). All these states to be inducted into the LoN.

-- Western expeditionary forces to be dedicated first and foremost to occupying and holding Arkhangelsk and the Russian Far East, with the aim of denying the USSR any practical sea access. Combined with the aforementioned peripheral states, this will box the USSR in quite effectively.
What I've outlined above is my big World Peace And Also Fuck Communism Plan™, which -- in case it hasn't been obvious -- is deliberately set up to turn the USSR into the common enemy, while also right away weakening the USSR sufficiently to ensure that it can't hope to win any future conflict. You'll note that it's a completely different post-war settlement, very much unlike the one we got in OTL.

Versailles was madness, pure and simple. It was both stupid and malicious, and it caused inestimable amounts of needless harm. The same goes for the rest of the post-war settlement. I hold that the rest of the 20th century should have been a victorious crusade of the Civilised World against the Vile Scourge That Is Called Communism. (Such an effort would have doubled as a geo-political "team-building exercise", due to having the former enemies on the same side -- united against the Red Menace.)

We could have had a world without a Second World War; a world in which communism never spread never as far as it did in OTL, and in which the USSR would be fated to collapse in utter failure much earlier. We could have had this, if a sensible settlement had been implemented following the Great War.
 
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ATP

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I know a lot about the Versailles treaty was used as propaganda for the Third Reich as justification for its wars, but there does seem to be a growing movement in the historical community who pretend Versailles had little effect, if any at all (which comes off as frankly absurd to me). Which is it? Or, as is usually the case, does the answer lie somewhere in the middle?
Versaile was important for other german parties - and they "only" wanted destroy Poland and take our lands again,not start war.

Hitler,on other side,wanted war with soviets and taking Lebensraum there.
Versaile was pretext for that.And,from 1933 to 1939 he tried to ally with Poland for that purpose,unless all other german politicians who wonted us gone.

So,for NSDAP Versaile was only pretext.
 

Simonbob

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So,for NSDAP Versaile was only pretext.
No, the big thing was that it set the stage that lead to the Nazi rise, in a few different ways.

Part was, as you said, as a pretext, as a way to blame others for what they were going to do. But, there was another side, and that's that it, and trying to meet the demands it imposed, seriously screwed the German economy.

The Weimar attempts to pay involved printing until they had enough money to pay their debts, because they couldn't afford it in normal ways. The inflation was so bad that it became common practice that the moment you got paid, you or your wife would go buy food, because waiting until the morning would lose a signifigant chunk of your buying power.




Note, this was what he needed to go buy a loaf of bread.





At the time, things were bad. There were radical factions fighting in the streets, there was starvation, bankruptcy, weird ideologies pushing themselves into schools and many other places.....

The Treaty of Versailles was a major reason why things were so bad, and the conventional response of just paying wasn't even close to working.


The Nazis offered desperate people a way out, and a reason to feel good about themselves, and many took it. That was their real claim to power
 

ShadowArxxy

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Wow.

I mean, Holy Shit, I didn't realise it was this bad. The Germans had every right to be absolutely livid over this disgrace.
Versailles utterly screwed Germany over because it was designed to do so. The British and especially the French were bitter, vengeful, and firmly convinced that the fundamental issues that caused WWI were intractable; thus, they saw Versailles as 1) strictly a temporary cease-fire so they could catch their breath before the inevitable Great War Round 2, and 2) an opportunity to impose crippling economics and military sanctions on Germany in order to give themselves maximum advantage when said Round 2 kicked off.

They also arguably weren't wrong. Wilson wanted genuine peace, but he was also coming at things from the luxury of a culture that *wasn't* part of the endless European feuds and also had the insurance of being an ocean away, which gave him a downright naïve perspective. And as bad as WWII was, I don't think a "fairer" treaty would have prevented the rise of Hitler and the Nazis because Germany would want to win Round 2 no matter how gently an alt-Versailles treated them, and then we would have been looking at an alt-WWII where Germany started out with even bigger advantages than they historically had.
 

The Whispering Monk

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Hmmm...could the WWI Victors have made a treaty wherein the German state was simply ruined and absorbed by the other powers and annihilated from history?
 

Simonbob

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They also arguably weren't wrong. Wilson wanted genuine peace, but he was also coming at things from the luxury of a culture that *wasn't* part of the endless European feuds and also had the insurance of being an ocean away, which gave him a downright naïve perspective. And as bad as WWII was, I don't think a "fairer" treaty would have prevented the rise of Hitler and the Nazis because Germany would want to win Round 2 no matter how gently an alt-Versailles treated them, and then we would have been looking at an alt-WWII where Germany started out with even bigger advantages than they historically had.
However, it might well have butterflied the Nazis. If the conditions in Germany weren't so bad, they might not have fallen for the radicals, and WW2 might not have happened, on that basis. I also note, when WW2 was on it's way, the French and Brits weren't ready, and their public wasn't interested in fighting. That's the reason that Hungry was taken without a fight, just before.


It's very hard to say what would have happened.
 

WolfBear

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Hmmm...could the WWI Victors have made a treaty wherein the German state was simply ruined and absorbed by the other powers and annihilated from history?
They could if they would march all of the way onto Berlin. Not beforehand. Such peace terms would have, of course, made the Germans avoid rebelling in 1918 and instead opt to continue the war, in which case 1919 is going to become a 1945-style bloodbath in Germany proper.

Versailles utterly screwed Germany over because it was designed to do so. The British and especially the French were bitter, vengeful, and firmly convinced that the fundamental issues that caused WWI were intractable; thus, they saw Versailles as 1) strictly a temporary cease-fire so they could catch their breath before the inevitable Great War Round 2, and 2) an opportunity to impose crippling economics and military sanctions on Germany in order to give themselves maximum advantage when said Round 2 kicked off.

They also arguably weren't wrong. Wilson wanted genuine peace, but he was also coming at things from the luxury of a culture that *wasn't* part of the endless European feuds and also had the insurance of being an ocean away, which gave him a downright naïve perspective. And as bad as WWII was, I don't think a "fairer" treaty would have prevented the rise of Hitler and the Nazis because Germany would want to win Round 2 no matter how gently an alt-Versailles treated them, and then we would have been looking at an alt-WWII where Germany started out with even bigger advantages than they historically had.
It's quite interesting, isn't it? Versailles was harsh but the victors were unwilling to consistently enforce it, which paved the way for Nazi Germany to reassert itself and to eventually start a new World War. Either a more generous peace treaty from the very beginning or being consistently willing to enforce the harsh Versailles settlement would have been better compared to the course of action that was actually followed in real life.

No, the big thing was that it set the stage that lead to the Nazi rise, in a few different ways.

Part was, as you said, as a pretext, as a way to blame others for what they were going to do. But, there was another side, and that's that it, and trying to meet the demands it imposed, seriously screwed the German economy.

The Weimar attempts to pay involved printing until they had enough money to pay their debts, because they couldn't afford it in normal ways. The inflation was so bad that it became common practice that the moment you got paid, you or your wife would go buy food, because waiting until the morning would lose a signifigant chunk of your buying power.




Note, this was what he needed to go buy a loaf of bread.





At the time, things were bad. There were radical factions fighting in the streets, there was starvation, bankruptcy, weird ideologies pushing themselves into schools and many other places.....

The Treaty of Versailles was a major reason why things were so bad, and the conventional response of just paying wasn't even close to working.


The Nazis offered desperate people a way out, and a reason to feel good about themselves, and many took it. That was their real claim to power
Ah, Yes, the starving billionaires that Hitler told Germany about. I'm talking about the photo in your post here.
 

Simonbob

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Ah, Yes, the starving billionaires that Hitler told Germany about. I'm talking about the photo in your post here.
When you have a billion, and it's just enough to buy a loaf of bread.

Heh.

A few years ago, there was a story about a bank robbery in Venezuela. They stole the furniture, the computers, and pretty much everything not nailed down. They left all the money, though. It wasn't worth picking up.
 

Urabrask Revealed

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Hmmm...could the WWI Victors have made a treaty wherein the German state was simply ruined and absorbed by the other powers and annihilated from history?
No, because then the USA would've turned on the UK and France. Also, no german worth his name would have taken that lying down. There'd have been streets of foreigners strung up by guerilla soldiers. Even if Germany and its people had been destroyed, at least the french would have taken such a hit to population and industry that the UK could've just walked in and start dictating terms to the French.
 

ATP

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No, the big thing was that it set the stage that lead to the Nazi rise, in a few different ways.

Part was, as you said, as a pretext, as a way to blame others for what they were going to do. But, there was another side, and that's that it, and trying to meet the demands it imposed, seriously screwed the German economy.

The Weimar attempts to pay involved printing until they had enough money to pay their debts, because they couldn't afford it in normal ways. The inflation was so bad that it became common practice that the moment you got paid, you or your wife would go buy food, because waiting until the morning would lose a signifigant chunk of your buying power.




Note, this was what he needed to go buy a loaf of bread.





At the time, things were bad. There were radical factions fighting in the streets, there was starvation, bankruptcy, weird ideologies pushing themselves into schools and many other places.....

The Treaty of Versailles was a major reason why things were so bad, and the conventional response of just paying wasn't even close to working.


The Nazis offered desperate people a way out, and a reason to feel good about themselves, and many took it. That was their real claim to power
Bad? A-H terms were bad.And if germans were treated the same way,especially with Bavarian ,Saxony and other states free again and only prussian crushed by paing fines,then there would be no WW2,only safe Europe with all nations except prussian happy.

And Europe wanted throw Poland under german bus - but,it failed,becouse germans,as usual,wanted everything.
 

lloyd007

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I know a lot about the Versailles treaty was used as propaganda for the Third Reich as justification for its wars, but there does seem to be a growing movement in the historical community who pretend Versailles had little effect, if any at all (which comes off as frankly absurd to me). Which is it? Or, as is usually the case, does the answer lie somewhere in the middle?
Versailles was hideous in that in terms of real world effects it did have little effect in limiting Germany from turning into the Nazi abomination while at the same time just writing all of their propaganda for them. And unfortunately any 'softer' treaty would've probably been just as bad or worse since what real world effect would've been less while the propaganda self pwn remained. The French basically knew this before the ink was dry, hence the Maginot Line.

For Versailles to be effective it frankly needed to be as vicious and destructive to 'Germany' as a nation as the various treaties that dismembered Austria Hungary were. Actually carving Bavaria, Hannover, Baden and other 'states' out of Imperial Germany would've made it infinitely harder for the Nazis... or anyone else... to have kicked off WW2 since they'd first have to reunify 'Germany' and that would mean taking control of all those now separate governments.
 
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I'm starting to see why many back then just called it The Second Part of the Great War as opposed to calling it a 2nd World War. Sounds like the fighting was going to be inevitable and the only reason why the Great war wasn't a prolonged 20 yearlong conflict was that all sides knew they needed to catch their breaths. Honestly, that seems like a good Alternate history question.
 

Buba

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The hypocrisy of the guilt clause would make a Buddhist saint scream KILL!BURN!MAIM!
Wow.
I mean, Holy Shit, I didn't realise it was this bad. The Germans had every right to be absolutely livid over this disgrace.
You know that you can read the English version online?
could the WWI Victors have made a treaty wherein the German state was simply ruined and absorbed by the other powers and annihilated from history?
Germany wasn't desperate enough to accept those terms.
IMO the conquest and dismemberment of the northern German state (Austria is the south-eastern German state) was militarily possible, with Britain and France fighting a war of several months' duration in 1919 to achieve this. The German army was broken in 1918 and breaking it again would not be that difficult. The issue is willingness of the respective Home Fronts, Treasuries and Armies to fight on.
 
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ATP

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Versailles was hideous in that in terms of real world effects it did have little effect in limiting Germany from turning into the Nazi abomination while at the same time just writing all of their propaganda for them. And unfortunately any 'softer' treaty would've probably been just as bad or worse since what real world effect would've been less while the propaganda self pwn remained. The French basically knew this before the ink was dry, hence the Maginot Line.

For Versailles to be effective it frankly needed to be as vicious and destructive to 'Germany' as a nation as the various treaties that dismembered Austria Hungary were. Actually carving Bavaria, Hannover, Baden and other 'states' out of Imperial Germany would've made it infinitely harder for the Nazis... or anyone else... to have kicked off WW2 since they'd first have to reunify 'Germany' and that would mean taking control of all those now separate governments.
Yes.And occupy Prussia with colonial troops till they pay for war.
 

Skallagrim

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For Versailles to be effective it frankly needed to be as vicious and destructive to 'Germany' as a nation as the various treaties that dismembered Austria Hungary were. Actually carving Bavaria, Hannover, Baden and other 'states' out of Imperial Germany would've made it infinitely harder for the Nazis... or anyone else... to have kicked off WW2 since they'd first have to reunify 'Germany' and that would mean taking control of all those now separate governments.
It's already been explained why that would never fly. For starters, the Germans were tired of war, but not tired of living. They actually threw in the towel with the expectation that Wilson's fourteen points were going to be the basis for the peace. Instead, the settlement was far more cruel. If the Germans had known how it would play out, they would've kept fighting.

If the prospect is the utter dismantling of Germany... they'll fight to the last man. And since they have basically nothing to lose, they'll be more motivated to keep fighting. Meanwhile, the French were also on the brink of collapse. If a chance to end the war was squandered due to some insane desire to vindictively destroy Germany, the French soldiers would mutiny. They'd say "to the Rhine, and not beyond it".



...Supposing that your psychopathic proposal were to be somehow carried out anyway: congratulations, by destroying Germany, you've left a gaggle of chaotic successor states, vulnerable to all sorts of extremist agitation, also of the far-left sort. This is then combined with the fact that they will be unable to adequately fight the USSR (and indeed, we may expect some of them to join the USSR). You haven't prevented World War II. You've caused an alternative World War II, which will be fought against Stalin. Considering how poorly the Western allies responded to German expansion on OTL, we may expect them to be just as bad (or worse) when it comes to the Soviets. The hellish timeline you've created will see the Hammer and Sickle over Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris -- and every city East of there. And because the USSR has far more strategic depth than Germany, and no reason to join Japan against America (rather the opposite!), we may expect a re-conquest of Europe to be averted altogether. (Probably, it will not be attempted -- but if attempted, it will most likely fail.) The Channel will be the Iron Curtain of this ATL. You've doomed all of continental Europe to decades under the communist yoke.

We may all be thankful that for all their vindictive spite and short-sighted stupidity, the creators of the OTL peace settlement were at least not so insane or so evil as to do what you have proposed here.

You have the benefit of hindsight. You should know better.
 
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