On 28 June 1919, the peace treaty that ended World War I was signed by Germany and the Allies at the Palace of Versailles. Allied interests were represented by the “Big Three”: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Premier George Clemenceau and US President Woodrow Wilson. World War 1 had devastated Europe. Large areas of north-western Europe were reduced to craters; French and Belgian villages and towns had disappeared without trace. The conflict annihilated Europe’s male population. Both sides suffered casualties on an immense scale. France had suffered more than 1.4 million dead, and more than 4 million wounded. In total, 8.5 million men died.
Many of the people at Versailles held Germany to be the only one responsible for the war, calling for the country to be demolished both economically and militarily, rendering them useless for future confrontations. Clemenceau was the most zealous advocate of this view. Supported by the French public, he wanted to bring Germany to her knees. He called for Germany to pay massive sums of money, which was known as “reparations”. If Germany was left destitute, extreme left wing politics would find support among the population. Germany should not be treated leniently, but neither should she be destroyed.
On 7 May, the treaty was given to Germany and its government. It was stripped 13 per cent of its territory and ten per cent of its population; the border territories of Alsace and Lorraine were returned back to France. Germany lost all of their colonies, 75% of her iron ore deposits and 26% of her coal and potash. The size of the army and navy was drastically cut, and they were forbidden to have any air force and submarines.
At the beginning of the 1930s, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party exploited the general unhappiness in Germany to draw popular and political support. From 1929 onwards, the worldwide economic depression provoked hyperinflation, social unrest and mass unemployment, to which Hitler offered scapegoats such as the Jews and Gays.
Hitler pledged civil peace, radical economic policies, and the restoration of national pride and unity. Nazi rhetoric was nationalistic and anti-Semitic. The ‘subversive’ Jews were portrayed as responsible for all of Germany’s ills.
In the federal elections of 1930 (which followed the Wall Street Crash), the Nazi Party won 107 seats in the Reichstag (the German Parliament), becoming the second-largest party. The following year, it more than doubled its seats. In January 1933, President von Hindenburg selected Hitler to be chancellor, believing that the Nazis could be controlled from within the cabinet. Hitler set about establishing his power,…