The early challenges to the Weimar Republic, 1919–23

The Weimar Republic was created at a time of confusion and chaos after Germany had lost World War One. People were starving, the Kaiser had fled and the new Republic got off to a troubled start for two reasons:

  • Many Germans hated the government for signing the armistice in November 1918 - they called them the November criminals. The defeat in the war came as a huge surprise to the German people, and many ordinary German soldiers, which led to a theory that the brave German army had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the politicians.
  • In early 1919 the victorious Allies met to discuss how to punish Germany and on 28 June 1919 the new German government was forced to sign a peace settlement called the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty punished Germany militarily, territorially and financially. Many Germans felt their country had received a very harsh deal in the treaty and resented the government for agreeing to its conditions. However, German government had been given an ultimatum – sign within five days or risk invasion.

The terms of the Treaty of Versailles

The main terms of the treaty were as follows (remember BRAT):

BRAT is an acronym for 'Blame, Reparations, Armed forces, and Territory' an easy way to remember the four terms of the treaty of Versailles

Blame - Germany was forced to accept the blame for starting the war under article 231 of the treaty, known as the War Guilt Clause.

Reparations - This was the name given to the money Germany had to pay for the damage suffered by Britain and France during the war. In 1922 the amount to be paid was set at £6.6 billion.

Armed Forces - Germany’s army and navy were significantly reduced in size and its air force abolished. This meant that a maximum of 100,000 troops were allowed in the army and conscription (compulsory service) and tanks were banned. Germany’s navy was reduced to 15,000 personnel, allowed only 6 battleships and no submarines.

Territory - Germany lost land on all sides of its borders as well as its overseas colonies (other countries under Germany’s control). In Europe:

  • Alsace-Lorraine went back to France.
  • Eupen-Malmedy was recognised as Belgian.
  • France also took the coal from the Saar region, which became a League of Nations protectorate for 15 years. Eventually the Ruhr would also be occupied by the French.
  • Some Upper Silesia went to the newly formed Czechoslovakia, and some to Poland – both of which Germany had to recognise as independent countries. Posen was given to Poland, as was Danzig and area nearby so they would have access to the sea – the ‘Polish corridor’. East Prussia essentially was cut off from the rest of Germany by Poland in the middle.
  • The Rhineland was demilitarised – this would provide France with an extra ‘buffer zone’ of protection.
  • The agreements that had been made when Russia left the war in 1917 under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk were overturned. Land that Germany would have taken from Russia now became the independent Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Some land also went to Poland.
  • ‘Anchluß’ – Anschluss – the union of Germany and Austria – was forbidden.

Excerpt from the Treaty of Versailles, 1919

Revision tip:

A lot happened in the Rhineland and the Ruhr in a very short space of time! The Rhineland was demilitarised (no German forces) and the Ruhr was occupied (by French forces when Germany did not pay its reparations).