Why the Treaty of Versailles didn't cause Naziism - (Answering a guy on youtube)


#1

So… I wanted to answer a comment on YouTube, but it seems the 2,800 words I wrote was too long for comments there . Who knew?

Anyhow, in response to my response to someone who claimed that the Allies humiliating Germany with the Treaty of Versailles being the reason for WW2, Matt K wrote this to me:

@Indiana Neidell 1. didn’t realize who i was talking to. thanks for the series, i enjoyed watching it! 2. Yes, I meant you are using a dishonest reasoning. You want to call out what you view is baloney. that is great. playing the ad hitlerlum game is dishonest. “I have yet to see any evidence whatsoever that Versailles was in any way responsible for the outbreak of WW2, other than that the Nazis complained about it a lot. That’s it. That’s the entire evidence.” No, you have seen the evidence. You just don’t accept it. Just as you did at 7:01 with disregarding “danger of communist scare”. Russia accepted Brest-Litovsk treaty because it was going through revolution and civil war the territorial concessions were mostly non-ethnic Russians. Germany believed it wasn’t defeated. This is not a good comparison. “Do we say that the reparations of 1871 are responsible for the war in 1914? No, of course not, and it’s as much bullshit as saying Versailles is responsible for WW2” again another weird comparison. Prussians won militarily, different circumstances. so are you just going to ignore the years of hyper inflation ? Treaty of Versailles was condemned not just by the Germans but by contemporary allies. The German people saw it as a humiliation, as it was. it contributed to the rise of the NASDP and the outbreak of ww2. Again, im not at all arguing the opposite, that it is the sole reason, but to completely deny it as simple nazi propaganda is hyper partisan.”

I took issue with this, and wrote the following, which is too long for YouTube:

There is a very simple way to see if the Versailles Treaty was responsible for World War Two, which I’ll get to in a minute, but first- boy, oh boy, there is a great deal of factual error in your response, not to mention gross oversimplification, which I think I have to address first.

Even before that, though, I think we have to establish what a couple of things actually are, and there seems to be some doubt here as to that:

The Treaty of Versailles was ONE out of FIVE treaties that ended the First World War. They had similarities and differences. The Treaty of Trianon, signed with Hungary, was, for example, far harsher on Hungary than Versailles was on Germany, leaving Hungary with only 36% of its prewar population. I say this not to point out that Hungary did not subsequently begin a world war, but that one really should define what “harsh” and “humiliating” actually mean, and ask through whose eyes we should look to evaluate those terms.

Also, World War Two was a global conflict involving a variety of nations, fighting for a variety of reasons, not simply a war that involved Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Japan’s occupation of Manchuria, invasion of China, and then focus on places like Malaysia and French Indochina for resources did not have anything to do with Versailles, not did Italy’s Abyssinian adventure and Mediterranean dreams, nor did Stalin’s ideas of reclaiming (by any means) all of the former Imperial Russian territory (and then some), and yet these are all integral parts of the Second World War.

Okay, but there is the question, did the Allied treatment specifically of Germany (and not the other Central Powers, whatever that happened to be) cause the rise of the Nazi Party to power? I guess that’s what the original comment claimed. Again, I’ll get to that in a minute, but I have to address some points you made in your response.

I do not “disregard the communist scare” in Germany nor in any other nation in the 1930s. A side point, sure, but one I feel I should address. The Communist Party in large parts of the world was a legitimate force with which to be reckoned politically in the 1930s. It was no longer, however, in places like Germany at least, a forced that was capable (or even willing) to organize a revolution like those that had eventually brought the Bolsheviks to power in Russia in 1917. It had been such a force in 1918, and the German Revolution could well have ended with a communist Germany. Also, if the Battle of Warsaw in 1920 had ended otherwise, Germany may well have become communist by force- by being overrun by the Red Army. Those things did not happen, though, and in the mid ‘30s were not about to happen. This did not prevent people from worrying about them, of course, and seeing political solutions to “protect” them from such events happening- like following Hitler and the Nazis. The Communist party was a major party in Germany in the ‘30s, opposition to it was equally a big deal.

This, though, that you wrote: “Russia accepted Brest-Litovsk treaty because it was going through revolution and civil war the territorial concessions were mostly non-ethnic Russians. Germany believed it wasn’t defeated.”

This is the worst; this takes the cake. Russia accepted Brest-Litovsk by force even during an armistice, no other reason. Period. When Russia and Germany signed an armistice to end the fighting in the field, Russia brought its army home from the battlefields. The Bolsheviks were consolidating power at that point (and would have it a lot more strongly after the constitutional assembly fiasco in January 1918) and they pulled out of the war immediately after the revolution in the closing weeks of 1917. The civil war had not begun in earnest, and in February 1918, Trotsky was negotiating at Brest-Litovsk. There had been talk of peace without annexations, but, as David Stevenson writes, “When the peace negotiations resumed, the Central Powers dropped the mask. They rejected demands to evacuate the occupied territories before plebiscites were held, maintaining that the inhabitants had already stated their wishes. They stipulated that Russia’s frontier should run from Brest-Litovsk to the Gulf of Riga.”

Trotsky was trying to spin out the negotiations, but German Army High Command was losing patience with all this and wanted “clarity in the east”. I will point out again that Russia had not been defeated in the field.

Thing is, the treaty signed February 9th between the Central powers and the Ukrainian Rada blew negotiations between the Bolsheviks and the Central Powers out of the water. Trotsky walked out of the peace conference, declaring it was now a state of “no war, no peace”, and Russia would not accept annexationist peace terms.

The Central Powers now had to decide if that was enough. They decided pretty quickly that no, it wasn’t. Kaiser Wilhelm announced plans for the division of European Russia. Poland would be given to the House of Wurttenburg, Lithuania to the House of Saxony, the rest of the Baltics to his own House of Hohenzollern, and Finland to his son, Oskar. He didn’t give anything to the Austrians. Wilhelm by this point was pretty pissed off with Trotsky’s revolutionary agitation and would be happy to see the Bolshevik government overthrown.

And at the war council meeting at Hamburg the 13th, the Kaiser spoke of a worldwide conspiracy against Germany, which included the Bolsheviks supported by US President Woodrow Wilson, international Jewry, and the Grand Orient Lodge of Freemasons. Martin Gilbert: “He made no mention of the fact that as many as 10,000 Jews, and many thousands of freemasons, had already been killed fighting in the ranks of the German army. Nor did he seem to remember the details he had been given only two months earlier of German financial backing for the Bolsheviks, including a secret German subsidy for the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda.”

That last sentence is more important than people give it credit for being, because, as we saw during the Great War- it’s true. Here’s some more Stevenson, because he’s so concise: “The Bolshevik regime sought an immediate general peace, but by signing the armistice it broke up its army, thus depriving itself of all bargaining leverage and being forced to conclude a separate settlement. Naturally, Lenin had no intention of abiding by it any longer than he had to, but nor had OHL (German High Command), and Brest-Litovsk failed to halt military operations in the east. On the contrary, German expansion into former Tsarist territory was only just beginning, while the treaty accelerated the drift of Russian internal conflict towards mass terror and civil war.”

Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff (the guy Wonder Woman apparently killed) had said to Austrian Foreign Minister Count Czernin during the peace process, “If Germany makes peace without profit then Germany has lost the war.” Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg had told the Kaiser that any peace must give Germany such formidable borders that no enemy would dare start another conflict with them. The German Army reignited the eastern front, now against no opposition, since Russia had demobilized with the armistice.

Russia had to give up a third of its population, some 55 million people. Most of these were ethnically non-Russian, but they damn sure weren’t German either, so let’s burst that fucking bubble. Russia also had to give up a lot of its heavy industry, 90% of its coal production, and a lot of its best agricultural land. In fact, they had to give up any sovereignty west of the Riga- Brest-Litovsk line and let Germany and Austria-Hungary decide the fate of Poland, Lithuania, and Courland. Even east of this, though, the Germans would occupy Estonia and Livonia until they could set up sympathetic national institutions. The Russian Black Sea fleet was to be disarmed and all Russian bases in the Baltic except Kronstadt were taken away.

Now THAT is a humiliating treaty, and cut the BS about “the territorial concessions were mostly non-ethnic Russians”. What the fuck difference does that make to a multi-national multi-ethnic country?

Oh, and “Germany believed it wasn’t defeated”. Aha! VERY important; also will have to get back to that in a minute, though. Other fish to fry first.

I have to address this: “so are you just going to ignore the years of hyper inflation?”

No, I’m not going to ignore them, but you seem to misunderstand them. Now, when WW1 began, France, for example, imposed its first income tax to pay for the war. Germany did not, the Reichstag decided to fund the war by borrowing. There were many financial experts that said that this could result in currency devaluation, but the government thought that when they won the war all that resource rich area Germany was going to annex would pay the debt. But Germany lost the war and was thus saddled with enormous debts. Germany was printing money with no resources to back it either, having suspended the gold standard in 1914. The reparations required under Versailles increased the decline of the mark postwar. This is gonna be very much a “long story short”, but it’s very important that the short sighted German bankers in 1914 had taken Germany off the gold standard.

The hyperinflation crisis was in 1922 and 1923. Germany had to pay the reparations in hard currency, not the deteriorating mark, but this is hard to do when your currency is becoming worthless. In 1922, Germany did not pay an installment of the reparations and France responded by occupying the Ruhr. You can debate whether or not that was justified all you want, what is important to note is that the German workers in the Ruhr went on strike in protest, they still needed to survive, and Germany printed even more money to feed them. In late 1922 a loaf of bread cost like 150 marks; it was over 100 billion marks a year later.

Now- and this too is important. Germany asked for a moratorium on the reparations long enough to get the economy back under control. Britain said yes, France said no. Well, Germany did in fact manage to stabilize its economy over the next two years, but in PR terms the damage was done- Hitler and company could point to the demand for reparations in the face of hyperinflation and say “you see what they’re doing to us?” But I’ll say this now, some major major points.

if Germany hadn’t fought a four plus year war on credit they wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place, and
It still doesn’t matter. Even if the hyperinflation was entirely the fault of a cruel, cruel treaty (which it wasn’t), even if there was no hyperinflation at all- it would still not make a difference to the argument that the Nazis came to power because of a humiliating Versailles Treaty (which I’ll get to soon; it must be exciting by now waiting for it).
The golden 20s followed this period, Germany had an economic boom, and then the German economy collapsed with the rest of the world in the depression, and it was the great depression, and not the hyperinflation crisis, that fueled the big rise in the Nazi Party. (I mean, heck, a year AFTER the hyperinflation they won just 2.8% in the Reichstag. Once the SD and the communists had no solution at all for fixing the depression in the early 30s then they really grew to ten times that).

You write, “Treaty of Versailles was condemned not just by the Germans but by contemporary allies. The German people saw it as a humiliation, as it was. it contributed to the rise of the NASDP and the outbreak of ww2.”

Well, you are right about one thing- it was condemned by contemporary Allies, but it was condemned by as many for being too harsh as it was those who said it was NOT HARSH ENOUGH. And to be honest, whether it was or was not harsh, it was the failure to enforce it in the 1930s that led to the rise of the Nazi war machine. Something that you fail to mention entirely, but we can actually ignore that for the moment because the issue is not the rise of the nazi war machine, but the rise of the Nazi Party to power in Germany (though if the Allies had actually enforced the treaty’s provisions in the 1930s then Germany would NOT, in fact, have been able to make war in 1939).

But we get to the rub now- the German people saw it as a humiliation. Now, the crucial question here is- why did they see it that way?

Well, you said it yourself (and what I said I’d get back to): that Germany believed it wasn’t defeated in WW1. This is the most important thing of all. The “stab in the back”, the betrayal by dark forces- the 100% baloney myth.

Let’s be very clear here- Germany lost World War One. They lost in the field. And their leaders were very much aware of that fact. Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg said September 28, 1918 that the war was lost when the Macedonian Front collapsed, because Germany could no longer watch its back door. He’s right, of course. I mean, whatever happened on the western front, three million additional Allied soldiers coming up through Bavaria would be impossible to fight. Now, Hindenburg knew this better than you, or I, or pretty much anyone else, but it’s very important here to look at Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff, who was, by 1918, in many ways a military dictator. He too, admitted by October 1918 that Germany had lost the war, famously stating that Germany could not fight the whole world. German High Command was not in the same sort of fantasy world Hitler and co were in in April 1945- they were aware that the jig was up; the war was lost.

It was Ludendorff, though, who at dinner with British General Sir Neil Malcolm, adopted Malcom’s question “do you mean, general, that you were stabbed in the back?” as his own mantra- though, again, he was well aware it wasn’t true. Hindenburg also repeated it publicly, though not as a question from Malcolm, but a statement, and already in 1919, it was believed by those men’s followers and by much of the Freikorps. Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and co repeated it ad infinitum from 1919 on.

Ludendorff kinda wanted to hold onto power, as evidenced by him being part of not one, but TWO attempted coups in the immediate postwar years, including Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, which is also called the Hitler-Ludendorff Putsch, in case you didn’t know. The “stab in the back” myth was a GREAT way to get support and this leads me to the very simple way you can see whether Versailles was responsible for the rise of the Nazi Party.

Sorry for all the window dressing, but it’s actually stupidly simple:

if you want to know whether the terms of the Treaty of Versailles are responsible for Hitler’s rise to power, then all you have to do is ask- would Hitler have risen to power if those terms were not as “harsh” or “humiliating”?

And the answer is a resounding YES.

You see, if the reparations had been, say, half what they were or if France had agreed to a moratorium in 1923, or if Germany had had even fewer territorial losses, or if the borders of Europe had been drawn more in Germany’s favor, or if Germany had been allowed to maintain a larger armed force, or whatever you choose that would make the treaty less “humiliating”, it would have made no difference to those diehards who supported the Nazi Party in its early years up to the Putsch, nor the masses who did in the 30s-

-because IF, as Hitler, Ludendorff, and Hindenburg publicly and endlessly claimed, Germany was not defeated in the field, then ANY treaty that imposes ANY limits, reparations, or mandates on Germany is an illegitimate treaty and a humiliation. If they were not defeated, then how dare these Allies force terms upon them?

The borders were unfair? How dare they draw those! We have to pay how much? How dare they make us!

Once anyone believed that Germany did not really lose the war, then any and all treaty terms of any treaty dictated by the “victor” are a humiliation, and those people who believed that to be true were the people that joined the NSDAP and allowed Hitler to rise to power. Pure and simple.


#2

The big history man INDY destroys youtube commenter with quotes and actual historical knowledge. One that consistently leads to me writing walls of text such as this are “France are Surrender Monkeys” jokes. Its ignorant and disrespectful, but how do you convey dozens of videos and books worth of knowledge about how the actual Battle of France went in one comment?


#3

By trying to blame Versailles for the rise of the Nazis, the idea behind it seems to be to blame the allies for World War II, holocaust etc.

Over the years I’ve noticed that a dedicated minority is trying to “argue” that:

a) Germany did not start/escalate World War I (reality: Germany did more than any other power to escalate a regional conflict into a general European war, even if others did make contributions as well)

b) Germany was treated harsly at Versailles (I would very much disagree, as almost all the lands it “lost” were not ethnically German or had been taken from Poland between 1795 and 1914 and ethnically cleansed).

c) Versailles caused World War II/holocaust (Indy dealt with this ridiculous myth)

d) Germany did not start World War II (the idea seems to be that France and Britain did by declaring war on Germany, whilst ignoring the German invasion of Poland)

e) Hitler didn’t want war, and when there was a war he tried to offer peace again and again (there were peace offers to be sure, but all of those were one sided deals that heavily favored Germany)

f) the holocaust is a myth/exaggerated/completely justified etc…

g) the SS committed the crimes, the Wehrmacht is innocent (nasty Cold War myth)

h) the British invented concentration camps so the Germans can’t be bad for having a few of their own

i) the Poles massacred ethnic Germans and Hitler only invaded to stop that

j) after the war Eisenhower massacred hundreds of thousands of German soldiers by starving them in POW camps such as the Rheinwiesnlager (this is a particularly nasty one, again aimed at drawing an equivalence)

k) Stalin was way, way worse (while it is true that Stalin was a very evil man, and his death count is in the millions, 15-18 million according to Tim Snyders post Cold War research. Much of the usually bandied about numbers such as 35-40 million are inflated Cold War propaganda figures, but nevertheless Stalin was evil and was a mass murderer regardless, I am not denying any of that).

I’ve always felt that there is kind of a sinister agenda behind the claims. The idea seems to be that many people making these claims see Germany as some kind of “defender of the white race/defender against the asiatic/bolshevik/jewish hordes” thus have a vested interest in presenting Germany as justified/innocent/harsly treated etc. Also, they seem to have a need to draw a moral equivalence between the holocaust and the crimes of Stalin/Mao. The idea behind that is, if there is a moral equivalent, perhaps the whole thing was never that “evil” to begin with.

Indy, Sparty e.a.
I don’t envy you. When the war against humanity escalates as it will do within a year from now, more and more of such commenters will crawl out of the woodwork.


#4

There were tons of Nazi-like movements in Germany at the time though. It’s quite possible that a different one would have taken over had different terms in the Treaty of Versailles left Germany in a different condition. Particularly, had the former Kaiser managed to have some kind of post in the Weimar gov’t, we could have seen things play out differently with a group like the Organisation Consul seizing control, although it would have been pretty similar to the Nazis.

The Russian Civil War definitely factored into the rise of Fascism as well. The decisive emergence of a Communist state, coupled with the rapid spread of Communist parties, galvanized the peoples of Europe. The Fascists conveniently ignored that Germany put the Bolsheviks in power in Russia, and suppressed knowledge of it with utmost brutality.

However, the Fascists’ opposition to Stalin had nothing to do with Stalin’s evil, which I think equaled Hitler’s evil. In fact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact shows that they were more than willing to ally with each other. The Fascists opposed Stalin because he ruled over a lot of resources and farmland that they wanted and that they thought they had won in 1918 with Brest-Litovsk.

All that being said, @Marsattacks, I don’t think there’s always a sinister claim behind these “Lost-Cause” myths. I think a lot of people around the world were just poorly educated about the subject and have a hard time accepting that what they were taught previously was wrong.


#5

That’s right, I believe as well that for most people the “Stab in the Back” myth was just the only logical explanation for what happened. During WWI Germany managed to conquer several European capitals like Brussels, Bucharest, Belgrad and seriously threaten Paris and London (the latter through bombings).
Germany managed to knock Russia out of the war and conquer large swats of territory in France and Italy, sure there was the problem of the blockade on the homefront but I think most of the German civilians thought that they just had to hold tight until the storm passed. Imagine their discomfort in 1918 when all the blood spilled, all the sacrifices, all the past gains were all for nothing. They probably had very little idea of the terrible logistical situation that Germany had to begin with, this myth was probably the only way they could cope with the current situation.


#6

Making the assumption that the people who are bringing up all these points, are at least somewhat sympathetic to nazism, or agree with its tenets. I would hazard a guess that the pointing out of the crimes of Stalin and Mao is probably an effort to “get one up” on whoever they may be arguing with. The crimes of the Nazis are well known, or at least, the fact that they did generally terrible things without naming specifics. I, as someone who is marginally left-wing or at least more left than those who confront me, have had the crimes of Stalin and Mao presented to me as evidence that “my sides” crimes were not only much worse, but have been brushed aside for sinister political purposes. It doesn’t work, mainly because I know about all those deaths, and what I consider my rational response upon learning about them was not “Maybe Hitler wasn’t that bad” and more along the lines of “Fuck the lot of em, and maybe dont believe too much that utopia is possible if we simply do x, y and z.”

If you dont know a lot about history, and then suddenly you learn something that is “shocking” or changes your view of the world, it is very easy to change ones “black and white” opinion into what I dub a “white and black” one. Just as simplistic and dogmatic, except you simply switched to the opposite extreme. An example being a person who is harcore religious drastically switching to dogmatic atheism. They dont stop being an asshole or thinking they’ve got the answers to everything.

All of the history I’ve learned of so far has only convinced me that shits complicated, and when someone gets up and makes a big speech about how they’ve got this easy way to make everything great, thats when you get the fuck out.