After 4 years of terrible warfare, the first worldwide conflict in history ended in Versailles in 1919. “Peace” for one side, a “diktat” for the other side, the treaty contained the germ of the causes of a second world war 20 years later.
Nearly half a century after the proclamation of the German Empire, Clemenceau was able to enjoy his revenge: defeated Germany signed the peace treaty in the Hall of Mirrors on 28 June 1919. The First World War was over. A table had been set up in the middle of the Hall under the emblematic figure of Louis XIV crossing the Rhine. The signature took 45 minutes. There was no ceremony or music to celebrate this solemn moment. 27 delegations representing 32 powers were present. Seated at the table were the four representatives of the allied nations: Clemenceau for France, Wilson for the United States, Lloyd George for Great Britain, and Orlando for Italy. Müller, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Doctor Bell made up the German delegation.
The negotiations had been difficult. A peace conference had met in Paris since 18 January to prepare the treaty. Germany was kept on the sidelines. The Allies alone took part in the debates. But they were not in agreement. France wanted to remove the German danger definitively and bring Germany to its knees. Great Britain, in contrast, wanted to let Germany keep its rank. The United States looked forward to a world pacified with the Society of Nations. Italy wanted the territories promised to it in 1915. The treaty was finally submitted to Germany on 7 May. It was very severe. All Germany’s counter-proposals, submitted on 29 May, were rejected and it refused to sign the treaty. On 17 June, the Allies gave it 5 days to decide. Germany finally accepted this “diktat”!
The conditions were indeed draconian. Recognising its responsibility in the conflict, Germany lost 68,000 km2 of its territory, including Alsace and Lorraine annexed in 1870, and 8 million inhabitants. Part of eastern Prussia was dismantled to the benefit of Poland which gained access to the sea via the famous “Danzig corridor”. Germany had to pay 20 billion gold marks in reparation to France. It lost most of its mineral resources and agricultural production. Its colonies were confiscated and its military power was annihilated… Humiliated, Germany was to aspire only for revenge. A new war, which the Allies thought they were avoiding, was soon to be prepared…