World War I Ends-Again: The Fighting Stopped in 1918, but It Took Another 92 Years for Germany to Pay off the Reparations

By Smith, Patricia | New York Times Upfront, December 13, 2010 | Go to article overview

World War I Ends-Again: The Fighting Stopped in 1918, but It Took Another 92 Years for Germany to Pay off the Reparations


Smith, Patricia, New York Times Upfront


Almost a century after the end of World War I, Germany finally made its last payment in October for the hefty reparations it faced under the terms of the 1919 treaty that ended the conflict.

"It's a symbol; it marks the end of World War I," German historian Ursula Rombeck-Jaschinski told The Christian Science Monitor. "It shows that Germany today is a totally different Germany than it was in the 1920s and 1930s."

Indeed, Germany is now an economic powerhouse with the world's fifth-largest economy--a far cry from the devastation and bankruptcy it faced when it was forced to compensate nations for the horrors of World War I.

After Germany's defeat in 1918, the victors----especially the French, who had suffered terribly--wanted revenge. The concept of reparations--payments to compensate for a loss or suffering--goes back thousands of years.

At the conference in Versailles, France, where the peace was negotiated, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson advocated a gentler approach that wouldn't punish Germany as harshly, but he lost.

Consequently, the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, placed all blame for the war on Germany and required it to pay 132 billion German marks--he current equivalent of $400 billion--to the winners, primarily France, Britain, the U.S., and Italy.

This devastated Germany and contributed to out-of-control hyperinflation; German money became so worthless that people needed barrels of it just to buy bread. The reparations also made Germans increasingly resentful and helped create the conditions for the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. …

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