How Harsh was the Treaty of Versailles Really? (Short Animated Documentary)

The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War One, is perhaps the most famous peace treaty in human history. It ended the German Empire, assigned Germany the blame for the First World War and took a chunk of its territory away from it and gave it to France, Poland, Denmark and Lithuania.

It’s often decried as being too harsh and as being the cause of World War 2. But just how harsh was the Treaty of Versailles, was it really that bad? Find out in this video, the latest in my very short, animated historical documentaries (about history).

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Sources:
Justice and Moral Regeneration: Lessons from the Treaty of Versailles by Catherine Lu

Mistakes and Myths: The Allies, Germany, and the Versailles Treaty, 1918–1921 by Sally Marks

German Taxation Policy in the World-War by R. R. Kuczynski (This was literally written in 1923 but sweet Bismarck I couldn’t find any information on German tax receipts).

Fiscal Centralization, Limited Government, and Public Revenues in Europe, 1650–1913

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Comment (50)

  1. TECHNICALLY it did cause ww2 like a snowball effect,if they didn't have to pay so damn much and if they didn't print money because of said debt germany wouldn't be so desperate for a way out and hitler wouldn't have rose to power as much

  2. There is another comparison with the Treaty of Frankfurt of 1871, ending the Franco-Prussian War and the Treaty of Versailles which allows you to get an idea. This is the treatment of the civilian population of Alsace and Lorraine at the end of the two conflicts! In 1871 the Alsatians and Lorrainers had a right of option. Until 1873 they either had to decide to stay French and then move their domicile to France or to stay and then become German. If they opted for France they had the right to sell their property and transfer their assets to France to rebuild their lives. This right of option was in no way conditional on speaking German or French. So a Frenchman who settled in Alsace in 1850 and wanted to stay could become German, even if his mother tongue was French! To be compared with the treatment after the First World War. More than 100,000 Germans had settled in Alsace-Lorraine, which had become German, had created businesses, worked, acquired property and even in many cases married Alsatian women and had common children. In 1919 a French nationalist ideologist Maurice Barrès had in a book entitled "The Spirit of the Rhine" described these Germans as an "inferior humanity" to be expelled. In fact the Alsatian population did not receive in 1919, contrary to 1871, any right of option. The Alsatians whose ancestors lived there before 1871 became French again (whether they wanted to or not) and the Germans expelled after confiscation of all their property, acquired through their work between 1871 and 1919. The worst situation concerned the children of Alsatians and of Germans born after 1871. Their fate was decided arbitrarily by triage commissions, chaired by French officers with civilian assessors, often former Alsatians who had opted for France in 1871 and hating Germans and Alsatians who had agreed to become Germans , which classified them as Germans (to be expelled) or French (who had to stay)! This practice even tore families apart, the German wife being expelled, the old Alsatian father having to stay and the children, considered as bastard Germans and French expelled! Without resources to restart their life in Germany, their property being sold to the receiver, as German property unlike the Alsatians of 1871! And one is surprised that this Treaty of Versailles caused Franco-German hatred! For the record Hitler only wrote his book "Mein Kampf" in 1924 5 years after the nationalist and racist rant of Barrès!

  3. in all honesty, I find the treaty of versailles as well as the post war german borders simply quite unfairly harsh, Germany lost Alsace lorraine, all of what is today northern poland and posen

  4. You kind of forgot a lot of things that happened adding to it.
    Like the country being forced into democracy (which many people really didn't want), the abhorrend treatment of the Germans in the territories taken over, losing all the colonies, the massive demilitarisation of the country and the part where a bit later on the economic crisis happened and the french semi-invaded Germany and forced people to work in factories for them.

  5. harsher to exile germans in different countries compared to forming new nations from different ethnic groups that previously were one nation.

    this i say because you start off with comparing losing land without considering who actually lived on those lands.

  6. What made it truly harsh was that they where not the aggressors in ww1. Serbia started the war, and Germany was bound to help the A.H.E. in a defensive war.

  7. The treats of Versailles was harsh, because it went counter to literally everything that wen into peace deals of the age.

    the reason the Germans took the lands off of Russia that they did is because Russians didn't live there. The reason Austria was partitioned was because Austrians didn't live in those regions. Hungary was done a little raw but still, most of the land it lost didn't have even close to a plurality of Hungarians. Nationalism and Ethnic determinism was the name of the peace deal game.

    Alsace was a majority German region. Northern Holstein was a pretty even split. The loss of West Prussia is perhaps the most utterly absurd thing that the allies could have done. That would be like partitioning Moscow from Russia, Prussia is the ancestral home of the German Empire as it was even if Berlin was the Capital, the region of Prussia was more important culturally. Their Army and Government where culturally Prussian, and the allies took that land and gave it to Poland so they could have access to the sea. Losing Posen I can understand, but making the city of Danzig into a Polish puppet and giving them that land I would say, along with losing Alsace, created the VAST majority of the resentment in Germany. And low and behold what did the Nazi's want? All the Germans outside of Germany back in Germany. Well done you played yourself.

  8. Sykes-pyko in my opinion was more consequential as we can see its implications to date, Germans just had an ego problem since by the time of world war 2 it was widely propagated how the germans actually didnt lose the war since as there armies were still somewhat intact by the end of the great war.

  9. I think the reason is, that Germany didnt really lost the war. It was more like "Oh, my allies fell apart and i have many great powers in a war against me, so there isnt really a chance to win this so i surrender". The allies didnt even touch the german land. And Versailles treated Germany like a 100% occupied and conquered nation. Furthermore the reparations caused a bankruptcy and by far the biggest hyperinflation in the world and today it is still the 2nd biggest in history.

  10. I think what should be asked is “was it worth the lives of 6 million Jews” and see that the entente took away and bankrupted the German people forced them to pay a ton and then above that blame the Germans for the war and talk about how evil they are for? For doing a lot less worse than the British and French, they deserved a lot worse than the Germans but are still glorified? When you look at world war 1 leaders in the entente you shouldn’t glorify them because they are the cause of the deaths of millions of Jews.

  11. It was quite harsh because the appeasement period starting from 1933 onwards towards Hitler's regime proves that the Entente powers didn't have to be so harsh and unyielding.

  12. Three points:

    1. The treaty ending the Franco-Prussian war and giving Alsace and Lorraine to Germany was offensive enough to the French that WW1 was virtually inevitable. Especially because it wounded French pride. So it ensured a French war or revenge (“revanche”). So the Entente powers should have expected that a harsher treaty would be more offensive to the Germans and ensure a German war of revenge.

    2. This was known at the time. When he saw where the Versailles terms were going, Milton Keynes remarked that it just guaranteed a German war of revenge in twenty years.

    3. What’s really interesting is that none of the losing powers showed any interest in a war of revenge after WW2. Maybe because of the incredible amount of destruction they has witnessed, plus the possession of nuclear weapons and massive resources by the winning powers? But it was more than that. They seem to have decided this war thing just wasn’t the best way forward and instead focused on economic conquest.

  13. Good point, it was seen as harsh mostly by Germans only due to their pride, and later as an excuse for Hitler and holocaust. Basically "we were treated badly, so we freaked out", as Germans like to teach it in their schools. Obviously, the real reasons were more complex and less glamorous. Treaty of Versailles was simply nothing special on harsh treatment scale back then, it was bad, but not uncommon.
    And lets not forget – Germany de facto started the war, it was only formally Austria. Other than that, many dumb leaders around Europe didn't make it better.

  14. Treaty of Versailles are a punch for Germany, but more worse is an act by Bank corporation which put inflation toward Germany for reparation, truly this war is just a pretext for this Bank corporation to control German's Monetary that never happen before.

  15. Germans clearly never saw what the fuck happened to Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire to think their treaty was harsh.

  16. Well, the wrong amount of harsh. Too lenient to cripple germany from ever becoming a major power again, though attempting that would have been a gamble either way, and too harsh to not needlessly humiliate a beaten opponent, thus sabotaging the odds for long-term peace.

  17. Slovakia was a separate country from Hungary, with different people, language and customs. The fascist Hungary did not recognise Slovakia’s existence. After the war, Slovakia gain d its independence. Hungary didn’t lose any Slovakian territory, they were forced to leave the territory they were occupying but it was never theirs as almost no Hungarians lived there.

  18. Ottoman empire -90% of territory
    Austiran-hungary -90% of territory
    German Empire -90% of territory (people always forget the colonial part)

    Image this peace terms in 1871 or 1820 on France, and there wouldn't be a first or second world war.

  19. Treaty of brest litovsk was between germans and bolshevik russians.
    Ukraine sign the peace treaty with central powers a few weeks before bolsheviks did.
    Bolshevik russians disputed Ukraine.
    They wanted to grab our land.
    Ukraine opposed that. And Central powers supported Ukraine.
    Germany annexed nothing.
    Understood?
    Although in few month Germans installed their getman in Ukraine, it's a different story.

  20. The harshness was that germans were blamed for ww1 which they dont think they were. Why not mentoin this ?

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