German reparations after the First World War

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German reparations after the First World War had to be paid by Germany due to War Debt Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty of 1919. The final amount and duration of the reparations were not specified in the Versailles Treaty, but were to be determined by a reparations commission equipped with extensive control functions without German participation.

The reduction, postponement and final termination of reparation payments were the primary goal of German foreign policy . Especially Gustav Stresemann and Heinrich Brüning brought Germany closer to the goal. But when the German government reached the end of reparations payments at the Lausanne Conference in 1932 , Stresemann was already dead and Briining had been released shortly before.

Positions of the victorious powers

The USA under President Thomas Woodrow Wilson wanted Germany as a bulwark against communism and a stable situation in Europe ( see: 14-point program ). But they were also interested in repaying the war loans they had given the Europeans (Great Britain, France, Italy). In the United States, the Treaty of Versailles was criticized. Since the bulk of the reparations ultimately went to the United States in the form of repaying war credits, they had the greatest impact on the development of payments. However, the US did not ratify the Versailles Treaty. On the basis of the Berlin Treaty of 1921 , a German American Mixed Claims Commission - consisting of one arbitrator each appointed by the USA and one by the German Reich - was set up to determine the claims for damages. In 1923 the United States ended its voluntary isolation and gave loans to Germany under the Dawes Plan , in which it was instrumental. In 1931, the American President Herbert C. Hoover launched the Hoover moratorium . The position of the USA and the Versailles Treaty were criticized (for example by John Maynard Keynes ) because there were no regulations for the economic reconstruction of Europe.

Britain under Prime Minister David Lloyd George had a similar position. It wanted Germany as protection against communism, a European balance of power , and needed the reparations in order to be able to repay the loans to the USA. The Versailles Treaty was rejected in Great Britain. It did not take part in the occupation of the Ruhr , but condemned it as a breach of contract.

France under Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré was primarily interested in weakening Germany and strengthening its own position in Europe; it made high demands and pleaded for tough crackdowns. France also wanted control of the industrial areas in western Germany. Since the Franco-Prussian War there has been a revanchism in France - out of frustration at the (quick) defeat ; The five billion francs paid (= 1,450 tons of fine gold ) were not forgotten either.

In France, Poincaré faced each other with an uncompromising attitude and Aristide Briand , who campaigned for an understanding with Germany. In the occupation of the Ruhr , France under Poincaré was the driving force.

From 1925 to 1929, Briand worked closely with Gustav Stresemann as Foreign Minister , and the Locarno Treaty was drawn up . The population was in favor of a hard line towards Germany, so that Briand could not make any major concessions that would have strengthened Stresemann's back against the radical parties. In 1931 France was the only country against the Hoover moratorium (June 20, 1931). France, on the other hand, felt ignored by the USA because it had not been consulted beforehand; Only after weeks of negotiations did the French government under Prime Minister Pierre Laval agree . On July 13, 1931, the German banking system collapsed .

First demands

The Treaty of Versailles initially stipulated that Germany should pay 20 billion gold marks - at the time this corresponded to over 7,000 tons of gold - in installments over the years 1919, 1920 and up to and including April 1921. In April 1920 the Supreme Allied Council found that Germany was behind schedule with coal deliveries and payments. In June 1920, at the Boulogne Conference, the Allies demanded 269 ​​billion gold marks in 42 annual installments.

Deliveries in kind on reparations account to France (1920)

In 1920 there were several conferences ( San Remo in April, Hythe and Boulogne-sur-Mer in June) at which the question of reparations was discussed. At the Spa conference in July 1920, representatives from Germany were allowed to take part for the first time. At this conference, a distribution key was determined in order to clarify what proportion the various countries should receive from the reparations payments. According to this, France should get 52%, England 22%, Italy 10% and Belgium 8%. The Allies continued to threaten the occupation of the Ruhr area if the demands were not met. In December, experts met in Brussels to discuss reparations .

In 1921, the victors demanded also that the two new DELAG - transport airships LZ 120 and LZ 121 are delivered. In part because of the express prohibition of the Allies, German zeppelin aviation came to a temporary standstill. In 1924 Germany delivered the American airship to the USA - also as reparation.

On January 29, 1921, the Allies in Paris again demanded 269 ​​billion gold marks in 42 annual installments, 226 billion of which were the unchangeable principal, and Germany had to surrender 12% of the value of its annual exports. The London Payment Plan followed on April 27, 1921 . The Reichstag rejected these demands and, after rejecting a German proposal of 50 billion in London, the Allies occupied Ruhrort , Duisburg and Düsseldorf on March 8th .

Not only gold marks, but also industrial products , such as the Kemna street locomotive EM (unit machine produced throughout the German Reich), were sent to the victorious powers in Europe as reparations.

There was a serious government crisis , which on May 4 in the resignation of the government Fehrenbach culminated. Fehrenbach had rejected the London payment plan as unacceptable and cleared the way for a successor government that could sign the agreement. On May 5, 1921, David Lloyd George presented the new demands of the Allies to the German ambassador in London . Germany should agree to repay a total of 132 billion gold marks and pay interest. Whether the so-called C-bonds, which at 82 billion gold marks made up the largest part of the reparation debt, had to be serviced , was made dependent on a vote by the Reparation Commission on the German performance. The annuities amounted to 2 billion gold marks, and Germany had to pay an additional 26% of the value of its exports. The demands were accompanied by the Allied London ultimatum . If the demands were not accepted within six days, the Allies threatened to occupy the Ruhr area. The ultimatum also called for the extradition of war criminals and demilitarization , as set out in the Versailles Treaty .

The government under Chancellor Joseph Wirth was forced to accept the demands one day after taking office on May 11, 1921. This “ compliance policy ” has been heavily criticized by the right. Wirth thus built on the efforts of Matthias Erzberger , who carried out the financial and tax reform of 1919/20 in order to cope with the anticipated payment burden and, through the accompanying unitarization , had significantly strengthened the empire's fiscal position vis-à-vis the federal states. Erzberger was murdered in 1921 by members of the Consul organization as a fulfillment politician.

Attempts to reach an agreement

The fundamental decision under Chancellor Joseph Wirth to comply with the demands in order to show that they could not be fulfilled, however, did not solve the reparation question. At the end of 1921, the German Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau was able to reach an agreement with France so that France received more deliveries in kind instead of financial benefits. Rathenau was murdered in June 1922 - for the same reason as Erzberger. In 1922, with British support, Germany obtained a deferral of payments. Britain wanted to protect German purchasing power and industrial production so that Germany could continue to buy British goods and pay reparations. This was an initial success in the endeavor to show other countries the limits of German solvency. The British wanted to advance their goal of a compromise in Europe through the Genoa Conference (1922) on financial and world economic questions; however, the 34 participating countries did not achieve any results worth mentioning.

On the sidelines of the Genoa Conference, Germany and the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic signed the Treaty of Rapallo on April 16, 1922 . In it, Germany and the Soviet Union refrained from demanding compensation from the other side, and it brought the two otherwise isolated states closer together.

Occupation of the Ruhr

The reparations question remained unresolved, and while the German government believed that the high inflation prevented payment on time, the Western powers accused Germany, with good reason, of deliberately keeping inflation at a high level. The Western powers were only prepared to accept a few brief deferments of payments; they refused a longer suspension. Since the compliance policy could not show any notable successes, it was increasingly rejected in Germany, the government under Wilhelm Cuno ended it in November 1922.

Scene from the Ruhr War in 1923

After the Genoa Conference, France had again taken the initiative in the Western Powers' German policy and demanded “productive pledges”. In 1922 the transfer of German industrial shares to the Reparations Commission was prevented by Great Britain. When Germany came back into a comparatively small arrears with the reparation payments, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr area in early 1923 . The German government and the population reacted with passive resistance, that is, orders from the occupation troops were ignored, a general strike was called, and above all the transport trains with the coal that the French and Belgians wanted to transport away as reparations were diverted and blocked. Thereupon the occupiers fired all German railway workers who, like the strikers, were financially supported by the Reich government.

Inflation and the end of the Ruhr struggle

The reparations contributed to inflation in Germany insofar as more money was printed, for example to support the war in the Ruhr: From January to October 1923, the expenditure of the Reich had doubled compared to the same period of the previous year, while income fell sharply: During the war against the Ruhr, only 19.62% of the Reich's expenditures were covered by income, the rest was financed through the printing press. Added to this was the spread of emergency money , despite the ban , which further fueled hyperinflation . After the end of the war in the Ruhr, stabilizing the currency by tying the Reichsmark to the gold currency standard was a prerequisite for renegotiating the reparation claims.

The end of the struggle against the occupation of the Ruhr area and the beginning of the struggle against inflation came with the new Chancellor Gustav Stresemann in the summer of 1923, who had initially supported the resistance, but now lacked ways to resolve the crisis. Germany had made several compromise proposals, but Great Britain was only ready for a new arrangement after the passive resistance had been broken off. Stresemann hoped that the foreign troops would withdraw after the end of the resistance, but France was not prepared to compromise, as it knew that Germany was hopeless. The end of the resistance on September 26th did not initially improve the situation; there were separatist movements supported by France. On September 28, reparations were resumed in accordance with the MICUM agreement .

Dawes plan

Only after pressure from Great Britain , which had also changed its position thanks to French support from the separatists, and the USA , France gave in in the autumn of 1923 after the currency reform and the end of inflation, and the Dawes Plan came into being in 1924. In it, the amount of the claims was not reduced - the 132 billion gold tokens remained - but no payment deadline was specified and the annual payments that Germany had to pay were reduced: initially 1 billion had to be paid, later 2.5 Billions a year. A prosperity index also allowed higher demands when the economic situation was favorable. A " reparations agent" based in Berlin was used to process the reparation payments . The Dawes loan of 960 million gold marks issued at the same time made it easier for the Reichsmark to return to the gold currency standard and opened up the American capital market for German demand. In the following years the public authorities, banks and private entrepreneurs in Germany took out foreign loans totaling 24.576 billion Reichsmarks, six times as much as the Reich paid reparations up to 1931. As a result, despite a passive trade balance , Germany had enough foreign currency to transfer the annuities of the Dawes Plan. The latter then began to repay their Allied war debts to the United States. The widespread idea of ​​an “international payment cycle” is misleading, however, since the loans were given by Wall Street's private banks , but reparations and war debts flowed back to the governments and the German economy continued to fall into debt.

Young plan

The namesake of the Young Plan Owen D. Young (right) in 1924 in Berlin

In 1926, the French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand and his German colleague Gustav Stresemann discussed in Thoiry, among other things, the evacuation of the occupied Rhineland and the early payment of reparations, which gave France the opportunity to fight its financial crisis . Above all, Briand could not enforce his ideas at home.

In 1929, the Young Plan set the duration of the reparations payments at 59 years (i.e. until 1988). According to this plan, Germany was to pay a total of 112 billion gold marks by 1988. The right tried to prevent the Young Plan with a referendum . The referendum helped Adolf Hitler return to politics and gain popularity among the population, without the referendum itself ultimately being crowned with success. Gustav Stresemann was not mentioned at the celebration of the evacuation of the Rhineland (the early evacuation was part of the Young Plan).

End of reparations payments

Heinrich Brüning, Chancellor 1930–1932

After the Young Plan was passed, the first presidential cabinet under Heinrich Brüning tried to boost German exports in order to get enough foreign currency to pay the reparations. Loans of the kind taken for this purpose between 1924 and 1929 were no longer available after the New York stock market crash . Brüning hoped that this expansion of German exports would become so unpleasant for the creditor countries that they would propose a revision of the Young Plan within a few years . The German export offensive failed, however, because as the global economic crisis began, all countries took similar measures and raised tariffs.

Herbert Hoover, American President 1928–1932

The end of the reparations came from a completely different angle, one that Briining had not expected. The attempt at a customs union with Austria and Brüning's nationalist propaganda, with which he tried to undermine the national socialists domestically, unsettled the foreign creditors to whom the German economy and the German state had become indebted in the twenties. In the spring of 1931, more and more remaining short-term loans were withdrawn, so that Germany was on the verge of insolvency. In this situation, US President Herbert C. Hoover proposed that all intergovernmental debts should be suspended for a year in order to calm the confidence of the credit markets in the German economy. This failed because the French delayed the entry into force of this Hoover moratorium through weeks of negotiations. On July 13, 1931, all German banks had to close for several days, foreign currency transfers were prohibited (capital export ban), and Germany was insolvent.

In this situation, the foreign private creditors, above all the Americans and the British, realized that the only chance of ever seeing the billions that they had loaned to Germany was to cancel the reparations. Even if the German economy recovered, once the Hoover moratorium had expired, there would not be enough foreign currency to be able to pay reparations and private debts.

In two reports from autumn 1931, the Layton Report and the Beneduce Report , Germany's insolvency was certified by international financial experts after the end of the Hoover moratorium. These reports formed the basis for the Lausanne Conference in the summer of 1932, which rescinded the German reparation obligations in exchange for a final payment of three billion gold marks (in foreign currency). The German Reich gave the Bank for International Settlements in Basel bonds in this amount, which will be brought onto the market within 15 years or, if this does not succeed, will be destroyed.

Chancellor Briining, who had relied on the complete cancellation of the reparations in order to improve his domestic political position, had already been replaced by Franz von Papen at this point . The Lausanne Treaty was never ratified by the participating states, which is why the German bonds were ceremonially burned in Basel in 1948.

In the older literature one often finds the thesis that the end of reparations was due to Brüning's deflationary policy , and that it was actually its real purpose. This opinion is contradicted in the more recent research: Accordingly, Brüning and his coworkers believed that the deflation policy would be a suitable means to help Germany out of the world economic crisis . Brüning's deflationary policy played a role in the end of the reparations insofar as it was expressly praised in the expert reports mentioned (namely, the private creditors hoped that Germany would thereby earn enough foreign currency again to be able to repay the private debts); The deeper cause of the end of the reparations, however, was the collapse of the German banks, which was triggered by Briining's clumsy foreign policy and the French refusal to grant insolvent Germany quick and confidence-stabilizing financial aid.

After the Second World War , the repayment of private German foreign debt was regulated in the London Debt Agreement. This also included part of the reparations that had been pre-financed in 1930 on a bond basis and thus converted into private debt. Their height has been halved. By around 1983 the Federal Republic had repaid DM 14 billion in debts. However, interest in the amount of 251 million marks from 1945 to 1952 until the reunification of Germany was suspended and finally due again from October 3, 1990. The federal government then issued funding bonds that were repaid from the federal budget, the last on October 3, 2010. Repayments and interest for 2010 amounted to around 56 million euros.


The total amount of payments made by the German Reich is 67.7 billion gold marks according to German data, but only 21.8 billion gold marks according to the Allied calculations. The difference is explained by a different evaluation of numerous performance positions. Even if the total amount of the payments made remains unclear, it is certain that the German Reich made considerable contributions in kind and in cash.

The question of whether the German Reich could have paid the reparation obligations imposed on it has long been controversial. The British economist John Maynard Keynes represented the British Treasury and was a member of the British delegation to the Versailles treaty negotiations. He came close to completing the negotiations in protest against the conditions that Germany should be imposed from his post in the delegation and wrote in 1919 the sensational book The Economic Consequences of the Peace ( The Economic Consequences of the Peace ), with whom he Germany criticized reparations payments as economically nonsensical. They would both destabilize international economic relations and carry greater social explosives for Germany with them. Keynes' view has also been criticized, but some authors consider the question to be hypothetical, as only part of the reparations demanded was paid and other factors played a role in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The Australian historian Bruce Kent takes the view that the reparations obligations exceeded Germany's solvency right from the start: None of the various payment plans were based on a serious assessment of how much the German Reich would realistically be able to achieve inter-allied war debts - the foreign policy interests of the payee powers were in the foreground.

Other historians, however, are of the opinion that the actual German reparations payments did not represent any real obstacle to economic reconstruction after the lost First World War.

Yet other historians emphasize less the economic than the political burden that the reparations of the Weimar Republic would have imposed. They had in connection with the German war guilt debate stood while the German economy by lending the United States made dependent who tried governments of the Weimar Republic about the demands to negotiate. For political reasons, the German Reich governments never seriously considered actually making the entire reparation payments. They have become a constant political burden because both the parties and associations of the extreme political right and the KPD used them to agitate against the Weimar Republic. This suggests that the reparations contributed politically rather than economically to the instability of the first German democracy.


  • Robert E. Bunselmeyer: The cost of the war 1914-1919. British economic war aims and the origins of reparations. Archon Books, Hamden CT 1975, ISBN 0-208-01551-5 .
  • Philipp Heyde: The end of the reparations. Germany, France and the Young Plan 1929–1932. Schöningh, Paderborn 1998, ISBN 3-506-77507-3 .
  • Bruce Kent: The Spoils of War. The Politics, Economics, and Diplomacy of Reparations 1918–1932. Clarendon, Oxford 1989, ISBN 0-19-822738-8 .
  • John Maynard Keynes : War and Peace. The economic consequences of the Treaty of Versailles. Edited and with an introduction by Dorothea Hauser. Berenberg-Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-937834-12-5 .
  • Peter Krüger : Germany and the reparations 1918/19. The genesis of the reparations problem in Germany between the armistice and the Treaty of Versailles. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1973, ISBN 3-421-01620-8 .
  • Werner Link : The American Stabilization Policy in Germany 1921–1932. Droste Verlag, Düsseldorf 1970.
  • Albrecht Ritschl: Germany's crisis and economic situation 1924–1934. Domestic economy, foreign debt and reparations problem between Dawes plan and transfer lock. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-05-003650-8 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Werner Link: The American Stabilization Policy in Germany 1921–32 . Droste, Düsseldorf 1970, pp. 223-502.
  2. Peace Treaty of Versailles. June 28, 1919. Chapter I. Article 235.
  3. ^ Reparations (Weimar Republic) - Historical Lexicon of Bavaria. Retrieved July 20, 2020 .
  4. Stephen A. Schuker: American “Reparations” to Germany, 1919-33: Implications for the Third-World Debt Crisis. ( Princeton studies in international finance , No. 61). Princeton 1988, p. 16 f. ( Online ( memento from June 18, 2017 in the Internet Archive )).
  5. ^ Heinrich August Winkler : Weimar. The history of the first German democracy. CH Beck, Munich 1998, p. 174.
  6. Bruce Kent: The Spoils of War. The Politics, Economics, and Diplomacy of Reparations 1918–1932. Clarendon, Oxford 1989, pp. 220-223.
  7. ^ Theo Balderston: The Origins and Course of the German Economic Crisis November 1923 to May 1932. Haude and Spener, Berlin 1993, p. 131 f.
  8. See, for example, Hagen Schulze: Weimar, Germany 1917–1933. Siedler, Berlin 1994, p. 37.
  9. Bruce Kent: The Spoils of War. The Politics, Economics, and Diplomacy of Reparations 1918–1932 . Clarendon, Oxford 1989, pp. 261 ff .; Florian Pressler: The first world economic crisis. A Little History of the Great Depression. Beck, Munich 2013, p. 35 f.
  10. Harold James: Germany in the Great Depression 1924-1936. Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1988, p. 382.
  11. Philipp Heyde: The end of the reparations. Schöningh, Paderborn 1998, pp. 463-469.
  12. Federal Securities Administration : February 27, 2003–2050 years of the London Debt Agreement. (PDF) In: Monthly Report 02.2003 Federal Ministry of Finance. Federal Ministry of Finance, February 2003, pp. 91, 94, 95 , archived from the original on December 8, 2015 ; Retrieved December 3, 2015 .
  13. Germany is still paying war debts .
  14. The long shadow of Versailles .
  15. Eberhard Kolb: The Peace of Versailles. Beck, Munich 2005, p. 100.
  16. ^ Paul R. Krugman, Maurice Obstfeld: Internationale Wirtschaft. Theory and Politics of Foreign Trade. Pearson 2009, p. 147.
  17. Bruce Kent: The Spoils of War. The Politics, Economics, and Diplomacy of Reparations 1918–1932. Clarendon, Oxford 1989, pp. 5, 389 f. And passim.
  18. Stephen Schuker: American "Reparations" to Germany, 1919-1933: Implications for the Third-World Debt Crisis. Princeton Studies in International Finance, 1988; Albrecht Ritschl: Germany's Crisis and Business Cycle, 1924–1934. Domestic economy, foreign debt and reparations problem between Dawes plan and transfer lock. Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2002; Diane B. Kunz: A Comment. In: Manfred F. Boemeke (Ed.): The Treaty of Versailles. A reassessment after 75 years. Publications of the German Historical Institute, Cambridge University Press, Washington / Cambridge 1998, ISBN 978-0-521-62132-8 , p. 523 f.
  19. John Singleton: "Destruction ... and Misery". The First World War. In: Michael J. Oliver, Derek H. Aldcroft (Eds.): Economic Disasters of the twentieth Century. Edmund Elgar, Cheltenham 2008, ISBN 978-1-84844-158-3 , pp. 9-50, here p. 34.
  20. ^ Leonard Gomes: German Reparations, 1919-1932. A Historical Survey . Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2010, p. 76 ff.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on August 19, 2005 .