20 years after reunification, Germany settles WWI debts

These "reparations" were intended partly by the Allies, particularly France, to keep Germany weak. But the ultimate effect was the opposite, playing a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power and World War II, historians say.

Interest on loans taken out to pay will finally be redeemed this Sunday. In 1919, as the loser of the "War To End All Wars", in which more than nine million people were killed and countless more maimed and traumatised by the horrors of trench warfare, Germany was held to be responsible.

The victors forced the Germans to admit in effect in the 1919 Versailles treaty that the war was their fault, and to commit to pay crippling amounts for decades to come.
"The French wanted compensation for the terrible losses they had suffered, but also wanted to use reparations as a means of keeping the Germans weak for years to come," historian Martin Kitchen wrote in "Europe between the Wars."

After much bickering among the Allies -- who were also in debt to each other from the war -- the defeated country, on the brink of starvation and revolution, was presented with a bill of 269 billion gold marks. It soon became clear that Germany could not pay.

First came hyperinflation, which saw at its height a billion-mark note, and France, frustrated by the lack of payment, occupied Germany's Ruhr industrial area in 1923, the same year as Hitler's abortive Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.

The 1924 Dawes plan and the 1929 Young plan dramatically reduced the burden, and the 1932 Lausanne Conference suspended all repayments in the wake of the Great Depression. Many historians say that Germany in fact could have paid, particularly after the reparations were sharply reduced and Germany was loaned huge amounts of money.

But it was their symbolism that counted. Hitler was able to play on resentment to the reparations and the famous "War Guilt Clause" in the Versailles Treaty to gain support in the chaotic inter-war years.

"The point is that it's not so much the financial burden but a political burden. Financially it probably was doable," Richard Bessel, professor of history at York University in Britain, told AFP. After World War II, the new West Germany -- but not the communist East Germany -- agreed at the 1953 London conference to repay its interwar debts, albeit a much reduced amount, something it completed in 1980.

Assembly elections 2019 | Get the latest news, views and analysis on elections in Haryana and Maharashtra on DeccanHerald.com


For election-related news in Maharashtra, click here

For election-related news in Haryana, click here

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)