From the archive portal: "In Focus - Reparations Conferences 1920-1922"

By Archivportal-D

In the section "Im Blickpunkt" ("In Focus") we present special highlights from archives represented in the Archive portal-D. These selected archival documents provide an insight into the holdings and offer research suggestions for a possible search in Archive Portal-D or the "Weimarer Republik“ (Weimar Republic) topic portal. This month, we are pleased to present a contribution from the Federal Archives on the subject of reparations payments.

For the young Weimar Republic, the conditions and fulfilment of the Treaty of Versailles were a dominant issue in both foreign and domestic politics. The question of war guilt and the reparations based on it were particularly polarising.

The first Reichstag elections on 6 June 1920 ended in a minority government with Reich Chancellor Constantin Fehrenbach (Centre). The Weimar coalition of SPD, Centre and DDP was replaced by a shift to the right and left wings.

With the signing of the peace treaty on 28 June 1919 in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, Article 231 attributed sole war guilt and the resulting damage to Germany. The article served as a justification for the reparation claims against Germany. In the Treaty of Versailles, Germany undertook to compensate for war damage worth 20 billion gold marks, yet the total amount and duration of reparations were not specified. A reparations commission with representatives of the Entente was to decide on the amount, type, and distribution of reparations in several conferences, initially excluding Germany.

Einige der Mitglieder der deutschen Delegation, die auf die Konferenz nach Spa gesandt wurden: Reichskanzler Constantin Fehrenbach, Reichsfinanzminister Joseph Wirth, Außenminister Walter Simons, Reichsschatzminister Heinrich Albert und Reichswirtschaftsminister Ernst Scholz, Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, Abt. Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe, N Fehrenbach Nr. 161, 1.
Some of the members of the German delegation sent to the conference in Spa: Reich Chancellor Constantin Fehrenbach, Reich Finance Minister Joseph Wirth, Foreign Minister Walter Simons, Reich Treasury Minister Heinrich Albert and Reich Economics Minister Ernst Scholz, Baden-Württemberg, Abt. General State Archives Karlsruhe, N Fehrenbach No. 161, 1.

A conference attended for the first time by German representatives was held in Spa, Belgium, from 5 to 16 July 1920. Contrary to expectations, the reparations issue was pushed into the background. The provisions on the disarmament of the German Reich and on German coal deliveries to the Allies were negotiated first. The resulting "Coal Agreement" was the first treaty after the First World War to come about through negotiations between the Allies and Germany.

The final sum of the reparation payments was not agreed upon in Spa, but the percentage distribution among the individual countries was. In addition, a conference of experts was to discuss the reparations arrangements. In January 1921, after a meeting in Paris, the Allied War Council then presented for the first time a payment plan with a final sum: 226 billion gold marks, spread over 42 years with increasing annual rates as well as 12% deduction of the annual export value. The demands triggered widespread outrage in Germany.

On this basis for negotiation, the German Foreign Minister Walter Simons made a counter-proposal at another conference in London in March 1921: the reparations were to be reduced by the Allies to 50 billion marks (minus the 20 billion already paid). This was rejected by the Allies, and the London Conference was initially cancelled. After the Allies threatened sanctions if the Paris notes were not accepted, Simons presented a final mediation proposal, but it was rejected. A partial occupation of the Ruhr followed on 8 March. Attempts by the Vatican to mediate failed. An offer by Germany to the USA to assume its debts to the Allies and an immediate reparations payment of 500 billion gold marks, or alternatively an annual rate payment of up to 200 billion gold marks, was rejected by the Allies on 3 May.

In einer Bemerkung zum Ultimatum rät Walter Simons „dem Reichstag […] das Ultimatum nicht anzunehmen.“, BArch, R 601/1163.
In a comment on the ultimatum, Walter Simons advises "the Reichstag [...] not to accept the ultimatum", BArch, R 601/1163.

In the meantime, the Allied Reparations Commission had developed its own draft: The "London Payment Plan" of 27 April 1921 reduced the total amount of the Paris decision to 132 billion marks. Even before the official transmission, parts of the payment plan had become public and triggered a government crisis in Germany: The coalition could not come to an agreement on the acceptance of the London payment plan. Even before the arrival of the official note, which was issued on 5 May in the form of an ultimatum to Germany, the Fehrenbach cabinet resigned on 4 May 1921. The "London Ultimatum" provided for an immediate and complete military occupation of the Ruhr in case of non-acceptance within 6 days. The newly formed government under Reich Chancellor Joseph Wirth accepted the ultimatum on 10 May 1921.

Germany quite quickly declared itself unable to settle the payments demanded. At the subsequent Cannes Conference of 6.-13 January 1922, Germany asked the victorious powers for a moratorium on payments, which was granted alongside the convening of a world economic conference in Genoa to restore the international financial and economic systems.

„Wir werden uns durch die Behauptung der prinzipiellen Gegner unserer Politik, dass die Erfüllungspolitik Schiffsbruch gelitten hat, nicht beirren lassen.“, so Kanzler Joseph Wirth in einer Rede vor dem Reichstag im März 1922, Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, Abt. Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe, N Fehrenbach Nr. 72.
"We will not be put off by the assertion of the principled opponents of our policy that the fulfillment policy has suffered shipwreck," said Chancellor Joseph Wirth in a speech to the Reichstag in March 1922, National Archives Baden-Württemberg, Dept. General State Archive Karlsruhe, N Fehrenbach No. 72.

The strategy of the Wirth cabinet following the London ultimatum, the effort to supposedly fulfill the Treaty of Versailles, was defamed by the right wing as a so-called "fulfillment policy" and used for propaganda purposes. Matthias Erzberger, signatory of the armistice agreement, and Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau were subsequently murdered by right-wing extremist assassins.

The text comes from the online portal of the Weimar Republic of the Federal Archives. We would like to thank the Federal Archives for providing us with this information.


Links to the sources in the theme portal Weimar Republic

The German delegation on its way to the Spa Conference [05.07. - 16.07.1920]

Acceptance and Implementation of the London Ultimatum of the Allied Governments for the Payment of Reparations of 5 May 1921: Vol. 1

Reichstag speech by Joseph Wirth on Germany's reparations payments

Research options in the topic portal

If you are interested in further sources on the topic of reparations, please select via the A–Z index  "Reparations" and combine this thematic keyword with the geographic symbol "German Reich".

In the object gallery at the bottom of the homepage of the Theme Portal  you will find further sources on the keywords "Conference of Spa", "London Conference" and "reparations".