On June 28, 1919, World War I came to a formal close with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
The actual conflict had ended seven months earlier, when a truce was called on November 11, 1918, a date now used to commemorate fallen soldiers by the U.S. and parts of Europe.
The June 28 date of the Treaty of Versailles — named for the city in France in which it was signed — represents a full cycle of the war, beginning on that date five years earlier with the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that triggered a continent-wide war in Europe.
The Versailles treaty sought more than just an official end to conflict. The Allied powers required that Germany take full responsibility for the war and pay reparations, as detailed in Article 231:
“The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.”
The next article of the treaty conceded that the shattered Germany economy couldn’t bear this burden, but the Allies nonetheless went forward with it (the Germans were not involved in writing the treaty).
Also included in the stipulations were reductions: the German military was to be capped at 100,000 soldiers and the country’s territory was shrunk to about 87 percent of what is was before the war began.
What followed in Germany was political instability and economic despair, owing to a combination of the treaty’s harsh punishments and internal factors. Hyperinflation of the Germany currency was historically extreme: in 1914, four or five German Marks equaled one U.S. dollar; in 1923, the ratio was one trillion to one. Historians largely agree that the punitive terms of the treaty contributed to some degree to the eventual popularity of the Nazi party and the rise of the Third Reich.
The front page of The Herald on June 28, 1919 declared that the “greatest clash in history has formally ended.” A cartoon depicts the Allied powers holding a treaty of “peace terms” to be signed. The German envoy, deciding between “national suicide” and taking part in the treaty, walks toward a cliff’s edge before U-turning to sign the peace agreement.
A headline below the cartoon says that a “quick ratification of (the) treaty without reservation is asked of Americans by their leader,” referring to President Woodrow Wilson. That ratification would never come, as the U.S. Senate chose not to recognize the treaty nor join the League of Nations.
- Read and see more about the Treaty of Versailles on Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Go here to see a photo of a victory parade in Everett, celebrating the armistice of WWI seven months prior to the Treaty of Versailles.
- Read more from the June 28, 1919, issue of The Herald in our collection of historic front pages.