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Treaty of Versailles signed

This Day in World History

28 June 1919

Treaty of Versailles signed,

establishes peace after World War I

The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28 June 1919 by William Orpen. Source: Imperial War Museum Collections

On 28 June 1919, in the famous Hall of Mirrors of the French palace at Versailles, more than a thousand dignitaries and members of the press gathered to take part in and see the signing of the treaty that spelled out the peace terms after World War I. American President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister Lloyd George, and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau were the among the leaders in attendance.

The treaty was the result of months of bitter negotiation, in which Wilson tried in vain to create a nonpunitive piece. Clemenceau, whose nation had suffered severely at the hands of the Germans, was disinclined to mercy. He insisted that Germany lose land (with some of it coming to France), be demilitarized, admit responsibility for the war, and pay reparations to the victors. The German delegates had no choice but to accept the terms; they were given no voice in the conditions.

On the day of the signing, two German officials walked slowly into the room, led in by military officers from the United States, Britain, France, and Italy. A member of the British government delegation described the scene: “They keep their eyes fixed away from those two thousand staring eyes, fixed upon the ceiling. They are deathly pale. They do not appear as representatives of a brutal militarism. The one is thin and pink-eyelidded. The other is moon-faced and suffering.”

After Clemenceau addressed the audience with some uncharitable remarks, the signing began. The Germans were first, followed by many others. The vast room was a buzz of conversation, as diplomats exchanged comments on the historic scene. Outside, cannons boomed in celebration, and crowds cheered.

The War to End All Wars was officially over. It would only take 20 years for the next one, caused in part by the punitive terms of the Versailles Treaty, to begin.

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