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. OnLooker

    I think Serbian nationalism had more to do with Gavrilo Princip's actions in shooting the archduke than any islamic affiliation...

    September 30, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rob

    In this country, we almost made FDR king for getting us out of the depression.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Afghan

    Will the US pay for destroying all those other countries, Libya, Iraq, Afghajnistan, and countless others?

    September 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Real World

    WWII did not end, it changed venue.
    What was Germanys aim ?
    To dominate Europe.
    What do we have today ?
    European Union, no borders, single currency.
    They just found another way to do it.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      with the slight difference that the EU is a democratic system governed by the rule of law, respecting minorities, promoting a multi-layered civil society and including all possible stakeholders into its decision-making process.
      but yes, apart from that, very comparable to nazi germany.

      October 1, 2010 at 5:21 am | Report abuse |
  5. Rob

    Since those contries were already destroyed, and the US has tried to help the citizen of those contries. I would say no, the US has already paid with a debt that will take generations to pay off. Countless others? Please list.
    Why is it that the rest of the world doesn't want any actions by the US unless they are in trouble or need help. The US saved Eurpoe and the world twice, and has prevent many other problems. The US isn't perfect, and doesn't pretend to be perfect. When will the US get paid??

    September 30, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nkelly

      We are taking our taxes! Do you think we will really pay back all the money we're borrowing? Absolutely not. One day we'll say, "Debt canceled". Just like that.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. True North

    Once Russia declared war on Austria, France and Britain were compelled to join war due to Treaty obligations, so the question of "who declared first" is irrelevant. That quote was from Patton; and

    September 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. TIff

    So...when's AIG going to pay off their debt...

    September 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Eric C

    Oh for heaven's sake...CNN could post a news story about a living dinosaur that has been discovered eating porridge in the middle of Mogadishu while cleaning it's toenails with the chiseled thigh bone of Jimmy Hoffa and SOME HOW the comment section will devolve into politics. FOCUS PEOPLE.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rabulioni

      That's true, but only because we all know how much of a hot-button topic living dinosaurs in Somolia cleanliness standards are this year. At least in Sarah Palin's world.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. dajobr

    nazis were socially conservative and economically liberal in some ways

    actually they were a dictatorship based on hate, so i am not sure the left wing right wing is the best way to point it out

    but in the end since right wingers support a plutocracy and corporate criminals, i would say nazis are closer to them

    also they were facists and right wingers want to control everyone but the rich, their whole lives i mean, except for the rich, so they are facists like the right wingers

    and communism decayed into dictatorship

    so only keynesian capitalism works, where hard work is rewarded but everyone shares in the wealth

    September 30, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bill

    surprising Germany still paid this, shows what a stand-up country they are and the true leaders of Europe.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. FairPlay

    No offensse, but there are only few things in this world that are more laughable than listening to americans when they talk about socialism!

    September 30, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thorrsman

      Why? Because we have yet to embrace that loss of liberty as so many in the world have?

      September 30, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rabulioni

    So, with all payments complete, Germany will have the original boarders restored, right? Most notably Pomern, Posen, West Prussia, and East Prussia, and Elsass-Lothringen?

    September 30, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. FairPlay

    Yeap that's right, you just call it "patriot act" and then go ahead with rants like "god bless america" or "we are the good guys"....enjoy your "freedom"... be carefull what you write in your e-mails....never never who is "tuning in"

    September 30, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Exposo

    I don't undersatnd. Whyt are they comnsulting with the holocaust museum on this article? Any 20th century historian could entertain us with the history of WW1. Stop this opportunism now!

    September 30, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Charmahal

    No one paid me ,and my family helped wining that war !

    September 30, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
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