Question Natalie Social Sciences

Postwar treaties - Versailles and Potsdam

Which punishment for Germany is harsher, the one in Versailles Treaty or the one in Potsdam Agreement?

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Answer Expert #13630

The famous article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles attributed the cause of the war to the aggression of Germany and her allies, and was “clothed in a language of moral recrimination” (Paxton and Hessler, 2012, p. 151). It was perceived as harsh, and two further clauses also caused strong resentment within Germany: the imposition of hefty financial reparations and the drastic reduction in German military forces (Vinen, 2002). This resulted in many thousands of unemployed ex-military personnel and placed great pressure on the German economy. The perceived injustice of these punishments contributed to the rise of National Socialism and the start of the Second World War.

The Potsdam Agreement did not focus on blame and was less harsh in terms of financial punishment. Realising that high reparations were unsustainable and not conducive to long term peace, the Allies avoided repeating the pattern established by the Treaty of Versailles. America’s Marshall Plan, which followed three years later, actually invested funding into Germany’s reconstruction. Two aspects of the Potsdam Agreement were very harsh, however: loss of German territory and forced population transfers. The Allies in this case were not united in their aims, and the partition of Germany into sectors divided families and placed Germany right at the heart of a global Cold War, especially in the areas managed by the Soviet Union (Winkler, 2015). In the Western sectors, however, the security provided by the Potsdam Agreement was the foundation for an economic boom in the new Federal Republic of Germany.

Because of these very different political and economic outcomes it is hard to say which Treaty was harsher. The Versailles Treaty was perceived as harsh but maintained Germany’s sovereignty intact. The Potsdam Agreement destroyed Germany’s territorial integrity and this arguably makes the Potsdam Agreement the harsher of the two.


Paxton, R. O. and Hessler, J. (2012) Europe in the Twentieth Century. Fifth edition. Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Vinen, R. (2002) A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century. London: Abacus.

Winkler, H. A. (2015) The Age of Catastrophe: A History of the West, 1914-1945. Translated by S. Spencer. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.