Two years later, the Allied Reparations Commission levied
additional reparations of 132 billion gold marks. Such a monumental sum, payable in cash and
goods, would be a garnishment for generations, a commercial enslavement that would hold
Germany captive for fifty to a hundred years.
Germany's population, and indeed world leaders and
historians, would later brand the Versailles Treaty as merciless and intolerable. But the
Allies were following in the tradition of previous German victories, which vanquished losers.
For example, in February 1918, when Russia, beset by revolution, tried to disengage from the
war, German generals issued an ultimatum to surrender within five days or suffer unlimited
destruction. At the same time, a renewed German offensive began. Lenin was forced to submit
his new nation to the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Its terms defrocked Russia of a
third of her farmland, 56 million people-or a third of her population-a third of her
railroads, more than 5,000 factories comprising half her industrial capability, almost 90
percent of her coal, and beyond that a cash indemnity of 6 billion gold marks. The treaty
was nullified after the Allied victory.
So Germany in 1919 was forced to recover from war under
conditions similar to those she had previously imposed on her own enemies. However, the
German people did not blame the precedents they themselves had established, but rather the
political and economic weapons wielded against them at the Peace Conference. They blamed
the blockade and their own civilian leaders for acceding to Allied demands and forfeiting
And, some Germans, such as the Nazis, blamed a Jewish
conspiracy. In their minds it was Jewish bankers who would prosper from Germany's economic
tragedy, since massive loans would be necessary both to recover from the war and to pay war
indemnity. In Nazi minds, it was Jewish Bolshevism that would gain by undermining the German
Empire and replacing it with Weimar Republic where Marxism could flourish. In their minds it
was Jews who at the Treaty of Versailles gained rights of minority citizenship throughout
Hitler's own words expressed the scapegoat rationale.
Preaching to frantic, impoverished Germans, the Nazi leader cried: "Not so long ago, Germany
was prosperous, strong, and respected by all. It is not your fault Germany was defeated in
the war and has suffered so much since. You were betrayed in 1918 by Marxists, international
Jewish bankers, and corrupt politicians.(8)
Hitler attributed the stories of Germany's wartime atrocities
to an international Jewish conspiracy, using newspapers Jews secretly controlled. And so the
Nazis held a special fear of what they called Greuelpropaganda, that distorted German valor
into Hun-like savagery. Greuelpropaganda was a mighty weapon the Jews knew how to use to
harness the German nation into bondage.
The lasting economic agonies of Versailles were soon
apparent. Inflation wracked postwar Germany, as the Weimar Republic struggled to keep pace
with Allied reparation demands and domestic recovery. German currency was printed-so fast
that it was inked on one side only. In 1919, the value of the mark was around 9 to a U.S.
dollar; in 1921, 75 marks to a dollar; in 1922, 400 to a dollar; and in early
January 1923 7,000 marks equaled a dollar.
For reparations, France of course preferred commodities,
such as timber and coal, to valueless German currency. But German production was unable and
unwilling to satisfy the payment schedule. When the Weimar Republic defaulted on the delivery
of 100,000 telephone poles, France exercised her treaty option and in mid-January 1923 invaded
German's industrial heartland, the Ruhr. Thousands of French troops took charge of mines,
mills and manufacturing plants. Germans were outraged that so petty an infraction could
warrant a full-fledged French occupation. Workers throughout the Ruhr went on general strike
with the full backing of the Weimar government. To support the strikers, the government
cranked out millions upon millions of worthless marks as special welfare assistance. By late
January 1923, the mark had jumped to 18,000 to the dollar and began inflating astronomically,
until by 1924, it was about 5 trillion to the dollar.
In 1924, German currency could be used for virtually nothing
except lighting stoves. People's savings were wiped away, their livelihood ruined. An
international commission intervened and Dawes Plan emerged whereby France would withdraw from
the Ruhr and scheduled reparation-mostly in goods-would be resumed. The goods would be
manufactured after a national retooling financed by large foreign loans, mostly from America.
Within a few years, billions of U.S. dollars and other
foreign currencies flowed into Germany, reequipping and overindustrializing that nation on an
unparalleled basis in order to produce merchandise and other barterable items to repay the
Dawes loans and war reparations. By the late 1920s, America owned and controlled billions of
dollars of German industry. And the entire German economy-which was becoming somewhat stable
and prosperous-was now also dependent upon export. Millions of jobs were wholly tied to the
foreign market. Export was the oxygen, the bread, and the salt of the German work force.
Without it, there would be economic death.(9)
Just before the decade closed, on October 24, 1929, Wall
Street crashed. America's economy toppled and foreign economies fell with it. For Germany,
intricately tied to all the economies of the Allied powers, the fall was brutal. Thousands of
businesses failed. Millions were left jobless. Violence over food was commonplace. Germany
was taught the painful lesson that economic survival was tied to international trading
partners and exports.
During each economic crisis the Nazis scored electoral
triumphs among the disadvantaged. In the boom-like year 1928, the Nazis could poll no more
than 810,000 votes nationally. But two years later, well into the Depression, the Nazis'
support leaped to about 6.5 million. In July of 1932, at the height of the crisis, oppressed
by 6 million unemployed, the nation delivered 13.5 million votes for Hitler, most of it from
the young, unemployed middle class.(10)
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