September 30th, 2010
11:32 AM ET

World War I to finally end for Germany this weekend

A French machine gun crew mans a Hotchkiss gun on August 1, 1915.

Germany and the Allies can call it even on World War I this weekend.

On Sunday - the 20th anniversary of East and West Germany unifying about a year after the Berlin Wall fell - Deutschland will make the last in a series of reparation payments that has spanned more than nine decades.

The final payment is £59.5 million, about $93.8 million
, reported London's Telegraph newspaper. Germany had to pay Belgium and France for material damages and the rest of the Allies the costs of fighting the war.

The initial tally in 1919, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel, was 96,000 tons of gold but was slashed by 40 to 60 percent (sources vary) a few years later. The debt was crippling, just as French Premier Georges Clemenceau intended.
Germany went bankrupt in the 1920s, Der Spiegel explained, and issued bonds between 1924 and 1930 to pay off the towering debt laid on it by the Allied powers in 1919's Treaty of Versailles.

Under the treaties of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Trianon, other Central Powers, namely the Austro-Hungarian empire, were forced to cede significant territory to Poland, Italy, Romania, then-Czechoslovakia and various other Slavic nations.

Germany thought U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" would provide the foundation for a future peace treaty, but Great Britain, France and Italy were still bitter, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

French run from an explosion during WWI.

France had been the most devastated by the war, and Clemenceau feared Germany might attack France again if it recovered, so he and other European leaders sought to stifle the nation's economic recovery, and in effect, its ability to rearm, the museum said. Restrictions were placed on its army and navy, and it was forbidden to have an air force.

The Treaty of Versailles not only forced Germany to give up territories to France, Belgium, Poland, the Czechs and the League of Nations, but it also included a "War Guilt Clause" forcing Germany to accept responsibility for the war, thereby making it liable for the damages.

Britain's John Maynard Keynes felt the treaty's demands were too steep and resigned in 1919 after warning, "Germany will not be able to formulate correct policy if it cannot finance itself."

As Keynes predicted, the plan backfired. While Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria all violated the terms of their accords, mainstream voters flocked to Germany's right-wing parties and Adolf Hitler's Nazis rode to power on a wave of resentment over the Treaty of Versailles' terms, according to the Holocaust museum.

World War I historian Gerd Krumeich told Der Spiegel that Hitler's message of tearing up the treaty and restoring Germany to greatness resonated with the country.

"There was tremendous frustration in Germany in the 1920s - this conflict that cost 2 million lives and left 4 or 5 million wounded is supposed to have been in vain, and it was all our fault?" Krumeich told the magazine. "The reparations payments compounded everything. Not only was Germany given the moral blame, it was also supposed to pay an outlandish sum that most people had never even heard of."

Germany discontinued reparations in 1931 because of the global financial crisis, and Hitler declined to resume them when he took the nation's helm in 1933, Der Spiegel reported.

After reaching an accord in London in 1953, West Germany paid off the principal on its bonds but was allowed to wait until Germany unified to pay about 125 million euros ($171 million) in interest it accrued on its foreign debt between 1945 and 1952, the magazine said.

In 1990, Germany began paying off that interest in annual installments, the last of which will be distributed Sunday.

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Filed under: Belgium • France • Germany • Italy • Poland • Romania • War
soundoff (272 Responses)
  1. ep canuk

    Who coined the phrase or where did left versus right wing come from. Different wings of a building or of the flight type. Of course wing nuts fits in quite nicely as well.

    September 30, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Machowbe

      The terms right and left come from the sides of the aisle in Parliament, I believe, and carried over to the American Congress, where the Democrats sit on the left, and the Republicans sit on the right. My old history teacher used to say that the spectrum was more of a horseshoe than a straight line, so that the extremes on the right (Facists/Natzis) were more similar to the extremists on the left (Communists/Socialists).

      September 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      The terms go back to the French Revolution:

      September 30, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. mypitts2

    I know the author was attempting to be clever, and it's not a huge deal, but the first sentence struck me as not entirely respectful of the great, tragic and, many historians believe, entirely avoidable loss of life in the first World War. It also laid the groundwork for the second World War. There is no concept of calling it even. It's a small quibble, and I'm glad this payment marks the formal end of a long, bitter chapter in human history.

    September 30, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nkelly

      Well I'm also glad it's ended. So does that mean they can start all over again on a new cycle?

      September 30, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Think

    "mainstream voters flocked to Germany's right-wing parties and Adolf Hitler's Nazis rode to power on a wave of resentment". Hummmmmm sound like anybody you know today?

    September 30, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thorrsman

      Well, since you brought it up, those rallies that Obama had in Germany DID look kind of familiar...

      September 30, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. David

    Who is getting repaid? The goverment? Sure the blood spilt by the army will never be paid back.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. True North

    Germany was the fourth country to mobilize during WWI, after Serbia, Austria-Hungary and Russia. So why did they get stuck with the reparations? This is why most knowledgeable people blame France for WW2.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thom

      Because Germany, not Serbia or Austria was the country to declare war on France, Britain, etc.

      September 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thom

      I see your point about France, though you might what to take a look at Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points before you blame France for WW2.

      September 30, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      Russia negotiated a separate peace with Germany after its own revolution started. The Austro-Hungarian empire ceased to exist - see Wilson's 14 Points, as others have mentioned. And Serbia was absorbed into the Kingdom of the Yugoslavs, whose predecessors belonged to A-H and the Ottoman Empire (mostly), which also ceased to exist. There was nothing black and white about WWI. It's impossible to blame one party. That's how Bismark, the Germany chancellor, had set up allegiances at the end of the 19th century. And that's why that should never be allowed to happen again.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. NWA

    Does that make Germany debt-free? If so maybe we need another "hitler" to clean-up the f'in mess around this country!

    September 30, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. rich harrison

    It's a bit far fetched to say that germany was the only responsible party for ww1. The out break of ww1 was caused by all the impearialistic powers of europe having signed treaties in the past decades to support eachother. As one country after another followed there traeties we ended up with a world war. lets not forget germany only entered the war becuase of there treaty with the autrian-hungarian empire. to think all this could have been prevented if arch duke ferdinand of Astria had not been assasinated. the two countries that started the war were autrian- hungarian empire and serbia. if only we had extended a hand of frendship after the war instead of trying to simply inflict the most damage and humiliation as possible we might not have had a ww2. lets always remember to not forget the past or we will be doomed to repeat it.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keksi

      Bush started Iraq war but you are paying for it.Bush/Reagan started Iraq-Iran war but Iraqis and Iranians are paying for it.
      People who start wars generally don't end up paying for it,especially if they win.

      September 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • rich harrison

      keksi: The losers ussualy end up paying for the wore you are right. your wrong on the iran- iraq war though. reagan-bush did not start that war. the united states simply funded both sides discretly since we did not see the advantage to either one of them winning and we wished for a draw. wich did happen in the end. to bad it took so many lives.

      September 30, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      If the war didn't start with the Archduke's assassination in Sarajevo, it would have started over something else. History occurs in movements, not events. The assassination was the straw that broke the camel's back. The Balkans were (and are) a tinderbox, but the real battle was among the great powers of the time.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. B. Gray

    The Treaty of Versailles harshly punished a country that was inadvertently drawn into WWI, and the far reaching effects were WWII which we still deal with the consequences today. Though Germany has a great deal of responsibility for both wars, they are not the only ones to blame here. It can be said to end WWII the allied powers made a deal with the Devil (Stalin), as Russia's cooperation was key to ending the war in Europe when they did. What they traded was was one dictator for another, in the guise of Victory (for those nations). The issues we deal with in the Middle East are a direct result of how the Ottoman Empire was carved up after WWI by the allies. The cold-war, Korea, Vietnam, ect are all a direct result of how WWII ended. So much for wars to end all wars.

    I am surprised a bit they still had to finish paying this. What's more interesting is the money flow, where do these final coffers end up – all the allied countries. Don't get me wrong, I'm in one of those allied countries, and we proudly fought in those wars but someone is still making a profit here...that seems pretty wrong...

    September 30, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Keksi

    Fox News did manage to shoot themselves in foot with this news.
    They reported how Hitler came to power after he promised he won't pay Germany debt from WW1,which attracted many right-wing Germans.They said thats one of main reasons Hitler was able to get in power,not paying german debt.

    In that moment,they realized that is what Republicans and Tea Party ruunning right now too,they do not want to pay war debt and oppose all spending including unemployment and help for 9-11 responders.

    GOP and Tea Party are running on same platform as Hitler,nationalistic propaganda to refuse paying for war they caused in first place.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linders

      Keksi – The Glenn Beck rally in DC actually did resemble one of Hitler's orchestrated events – complete with Aryan majority and lock-step applause...

      September 30, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Buck

      Calling all Tea Baggers...break out the Brown Shirts!

      September 30, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Martin

    The french actually held a gun was it fired ??????
    Who said " I would rather have a German battalion in front of me than a French one behind me "

    September 30, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Patton?? maybe Pershing??

      September 30, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nanbawan

      They actually won that War if you knew anything...

      September 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joe

    Still Stalin killed more people than any right-wing leader in the 20th century. This Hitler guy has nothing on Josef. Stalin I guess is LEFT-WING.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • SomeGuyInNC

      "Left" and "right" have no real meaning with dictatorships, or for that matter any extreme ideology. In the end, ideologues care only about power: getting it, keeping it, and using it. I recommend "The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli for more insights.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Linders

    In retrospect, WWII actually began the day the Versailles Treaty was signed – not when Poland was invaded. Germany had no way of repaying her reparations with such financial restrictions imposed. It'll always be the unanswered question whether WWII could have been avoided had the United States joined the League of Nations. Wow...We've come a long way...

    September 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. chris

    LOL now they can start paying off world war 2 debt which will take them another hundred years considering it was ten times worse

    September 30, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ClarkAFB

    I agree – Amanda

    Don't forget the predecessor idiot we elected in 2000 and 2004..........

    But we really didn't elect him in 2000. He and his brother, the FL Governor and Katherine Harris, hijacked democracy and stole the election. Too bad we couldn't redefeat him in 2004. We would have been better off.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Frank

    It's interesting that WWII started by the Treaty of Versailles. It's also very interesting that the non-agression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union gave each party a share of Poland. When Germany invaded Poland England and France eventually declared war on Germany. The Soviets were allies of England and France, but neither did anything about what the Soviets did by taking part of Poland. I guess that was OK since they were not seen as the agressor nation.

    As for th ideological differences between Hitler and Stalin were small. Hitler exterminated enemies of the state, namly Jews, while Stalin just killed anybody who might even think he was wrong. Oh wait, Hitler did that also. They were both dictators, killed anybody they thought might threaten them. Right or Left? They were only out for themselves and their power and not beholding to any political theology.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      There wasn't much the Allies could do about the Polish grab. WWII led directly into the Cold War, and Stalin wanted a buffer between the USSR and the DDR. Actually, the Allies didn't recognize that border (Oder-Neisse) until Germany reunited in the 1990s. They focused on places where they had a toehold, ie Berlin, the Saarland, etc.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
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