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Treaty of Versailles centenary: Relics tell story of historic signing

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By Emma Beswick
Treaty of Versailles centenary: Relics tell story of historic signing
Copyright  National WWI Museum and Memorial   -  

On the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, we take a look at some relics from the moment the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers was ended after World War I and how the historic treaty shaped the world today.

What was in the treaty?

"It was an amazingly complex document and procedure," Doran Cart, senior curator at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Missouri, told Euronews.

The Allies had dozens of documents and studies prepared to address the key point, which was how Germany would pay.

National WWI Museum and Memorial
Treaty of Peace with Germany.National WWI Museum and Memorial
National WWI Museum and Memorial
A draft clause dealing with the fate of William II of Hohenzollern.National WWI Museum and Memorial

The rest of the document addressed how other countries were affected, including the division of the Ottoman empire.

Other countries or leaders looked to further their interests. Romania "was a major player in the changing of their place in the geographic areas," according to Cart.

One figure who came looking for change was Emir Faisal from the Hejaz, who wanted to create what would become present-day Saudi Arabia.

"There were also many volumes on what to do with Syria — of course, we are still trying to answer that question today," Cart said.

Division between 'greater powers' and 'smaller powers'

A seating chart used during meetings of all delegates at the Paris Peace Conference — the meeting of the victorious Allied Powers — highlighted the clear division of the "greater" and "smaller" powers.

Thirty countries are represented on the seating chart. The placement of the "Big Four" (US, Great Britain, France and Italy) at the head of the table reflects the power they held over the creation of the Treaty of Versailles.

What happened in the wake of the treaty being signed?

In the days immediately following signatures being put on the treaty, Allied troops began to return home.

"The Allied Forces, American, British and French military forces that were on occupation in Germany, were allowed to start standing down," Cart said.

"They had been kept on high alert until the actual treaty was signed so that different factions in Germany were not allowed to create an atmosphere meaning treaty couldn't be signed.

While Germany was not divided up, its empire was to be dissolved. The Treaty of Versailles was not the only document to have bearing on this — treaties were signed as late as 1921 that affected the geographic notion of the world after the war.

The League of Nations was created as a result of the Paris Peace Conference on 10 January 1920 — an international organisation, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, to provide a forum for resolving international disputes.

National WWI Museum and Memorial

How did the treaty shape the world we know today?

Some claim that the harsh treatment of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles essentially led to World War II.

Cart said it is "difficult to make direct connections like this because there are a lot of factors occurring in Germany that were not affected by the treaty," adding, "It was a convenient whipping boy."

He believes that the world war never really ended and that the treaty rather created a period of armistice for 20 years.

Despite this, Cart acknowledged: "The treaty has a place in ending the war, but it really didn't solve all the problems of the war."

Some of the signatories hoped through the ceremony of the occasion that this would lead to a real sea-change in the world, but "it didn't accomplish what they'd hoped to".