How the Allies Could have Prevented the Rise of Hitler and the Jewish Holocaust Part 1

There is virtually no outcome in history that  is inevitable or unavoidable. History has shown that both World Wars were eminently avoidable as was, of course, the rise of Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler, and the Jewish Holocaust which he perpetuated. Both world wars were begun, to a large extent, as the result of miscalculation or mistake. In the case of World War I, on August 1, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered German Army Chief of the General Staff, General Helmuth von Moltke, not to invade Belgium, Luxembourg or France, ordering him to redeploy German armies to the east in preparation for an offensive against Russia. Tragically, his order was deliberately disobeyed resulting in war with Britain, France and, ultimately, the United States dooming Germany to near-certain defeat.

With regards to World War II, British Prime Minister Chamberlain believed that his March 1939 guarantee of Poland against Germany would deter Hitler from invading Poland at a time when he had no intention of doing so due to the fact that Hitler mistakenly believed his uncharacteristically modest demands, which did not ask for one square inch of Polish territory, would be satisfied without the need for military conflict. Sadly, it ended up having the polar opposite effect as the Poles felt there was no need to negotiate the return of the independent German city of Danzig with Britain supporting Poland militarily. Similarly, Hitler mistakenly believed that the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in August 1939 would prevent Britain and France from declaring war on Germany following a German invasion of Poland as Germany would then be free to turn all of its military resources westward. Thus Hitler invaded anyway at a time when Germany was ill-prepared to fight another world war.

World War I was to be “the war to end all wars” and “the war to make the world safe for democracy” as moral crusader U.S. President Woodrow Wilson stated. Tragically, the victory that the Allies had won at the cost of millions of soldiers’ lives was largely lost at the Treaty of Versailles due to the fact that the Treaty divided Germany by the so-called Polish Corridor into two separate parts ensuring that it would only be an armistice for twenty years as was presciently predicted by French Marshal Ferdinand Foch. While the treaty was rightly considered very punitive in certain respects, it was not a Carthaginian peace such as the Allies imposed on Germany in 1945 when they dismembered and largely destroyed Germany.

Following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, the victorious allies—the United Kingdom, Russia, Austria and Prussia met at the Congress of Vienna to ensure that France’s military would never again threaten them with future aggression. They did so not by dismembering and disarming France but by integrating it into their international order. The world order that followed was the most successful in modern history and with the exception of the Crimean War kept the peace between the Great Powers of Europe for nearly a century. Had the victorious Allied Powers followed the successful example of the Concert of Europe after World War I, they would have sought to incorporate Germany into their world order instead of occupying it for a dozen years, splitting it in two and disarming it of its ability to defend itself from foreign aggression, even by minor powers, as they did under the Treaty of Versailles. Their objective should have been to make Germany a supporter of peace and the world order which they created following the First World War rather than transform it into an aggrieved power.

The Allies failed to realize that the key to avoiding another world war with Germany was not to implement a punitive treaty which aimed to permanently disarm it and unjustifiably strip it of its wealth, natural resources, population and territory. Rather it was to disincentivize it from wanting to fight another great war ever again by granting it a just, negotiated compromise peace which addressed their legitimate concerns of being allowed to retain its territorial integrity, to maintain a military sufficiently strong to defend it against any threatened foreign aggression and to retain its independence from foreign interference. The Allies should have accepted Germany as an equal as was done with France a century earlier, within a few years of the war’s end.

There is no other instance in modern recorded history where a nation surrendered conditionally where the victors tried to keep the defeated nation permanently disarmed and defenseless to foreign invasion and occupation while at the same time attempting to keep it economically prostrate as well with reparations so crushing that it took them ninety-one years to pay them in full. Germany was forced to renounce all of its foreign securities while all German property in German businesses abroad was confiscated by the Allies who retained the right to confiscate all German property in the future, thus effectively discouraging Germany from engaging in international trade. Meanwhile, the Allied International Reparations Commission was given dictatorial powers over the German economy and even cultural and educational matters. Germany was even barred from joining the League of Nations until the Allies relented in 1926. Not surprisingly, the Treaty of Versailles had the effect of transforming Imperial Germany, which had been a satisfied power supportive of the global order with no territorial ambitions, into a revisionist power seething at the humiliation of defeat followed by an unjust peace hoping that one day it would be justly revised to reunite Germany and restore many of her lost territories most importantly the Polish Corridor which had divided Germany in two.

A number of British leaders, insightfully, came to believe within a few years after the war, that the Germans would not abide by their pledges inscribed in the Versailles Treaty because they had never actually agreed to them, which would not have been the case had the Germans been allowed a negotiated peace. The German delegation at Versailles denounced Allied demands to sign the treaty as written would reduce German citizens to ‘slave laborers’ and would be tantamount to signing Germany’s own ‘death sentence.’ Yet they were willing to accept Allied demands regarding German disarmament, reductions in the size of her military and even stiff reparations in exchange for respect for the Allies respecting the principle of self-determination in deciding the fate of German territories and citizens, restoration of their economic freedom and admission to the League of Nations. These were all just reservations which the Allies should have been willing to concede particularly given that the German delegation agreed to all of the top French demands of paying a high level of reparations, total disarmament and reducing the size of their army to 100,000 men. Their abject refusal to do so ensured the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of a second world war which cost tens of millions of more lives than the first.

Thanks in large part to a book written by British economist John Maynard Keynes, “The Economic Consequences of the Peace”, in which he condemned the Treaty of Versailles as a Carthaginian Peace, Allied leaders in the U.S., Britain and France came to believe that they had gone too far to punish Germany. Subsequently, they largely agreed upon a policy of revising the Treaty and reversing its most unjust provisions in order to accommodate Germany and thus avoid the outbreak of a Second World War between Germany and the Western Powers.

Historians are in general agreement that it was the unusually punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 imposed by the victorious and vengeful Allies that led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power, which in turn produced World War II and the Jewish Holocaust which together cost the lives of an estimated fifty million people. Unlike the case at the end of World War II, in November 1918, Germany surrendered conditionally to the Allies based upon Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’ mistakenly believing that they would be treated fairly. Also unlike 1945 when Germany surrendered unconditionally only after being completely overrun by Allied troops, their armies remained largely undefeated occupying areas of Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Baltics, Western Russia and Ukraine. They had won the war in the East against Russia in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed earlier that year. Russia and Allied troops had captured no German territory other than a small slice of Alsace-Lorraine. The reason for their surrender was due to the Bolshevik-led and mutinies of their sailors and soldiers, which in turn were caused by the successful Anglo-American starvation blockade which served to greatly demoralized them, without which they might have fought the war in the West to a draw.

But what if President Woodrow Wilson had succeeded in prevailing upon the victorious Allied powers to grant the defeated Germans a negotiated compromise peace agreement which might have provided a just and lasting peace not only for the victorious Allies but also for the vanquished Germans? What if Germany had not allowed their armies to melt away as in actual history but rather were successful in keeping them in place during the armistice period while negotiating the final terms of their surrender from a position of military strength rather than abject weakness? What if reason had prevailed upon the Americans and British to veto French demands for a more punitive peace treaty in favor of negotiating one based upon the right of self-determination for the defeated Germans and Austrians instead? What then would such a compromise peace have looked like?

Immediate End to the Illegal Anglo-American Starvation Blockade

In actual history, the Allies continued the starvation blockade, which was illegal under international law and resulted in an estimated 750,000 deaths of innocent German civilians, in place for over seven and a half months after the signing of the Armistice in order to help force them to sign the punitive Treaty of Versailles. However, if the peace agreement was a negotiated settlement, then there would be no need for such a stark measure designed to blackmail German leaders into capitulating and accepting unacceptably harsh treaty terms. Unlike as was the case during the Second World War in which multiple war crimes were committed by all of the major powers, the Allied starvation blockade, along with the brief German practice of ‘unrestricted submarine warfare,’ were the only significant war crimes committed during the First World War.

No ‘War Guilt’ Clause

Article 231, the so-called ‘War Guilt’ clause, of the Treaty of Versailles was seen by the victorious Allies as logical and necessary to justify the exorbitant level of reparations of 132 billion gold marks in the Treaty. In 1954, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, one of the authors of this clause stated that, “Efforts to bankrupt and humiliate a nation merely incite a people of vigor and of courage to break the bonds imposed upon them…Prohibitions thus incite the very acts that are prohibited.” Most historians have since rightly concluded that Germany having to admit to total guilt in starting World War I was an unnecessary humiliation which added insult to injury. It was also not entirely factually accurate. It was Austria-Hungary, not Germany, more than any other country, which was principally responsible for starting the war, which resulted in the breakup and dismemberment of their empire as well as the breakup and dismemberment of Germany herself via the Polish Corridor. This ‘War Guilt’ clause, along with reparations, which conservative German leaders railed against the most during the period of the Weimar Republic, provided considerable rhetorical ammunition and impetus to the rise of Adolf Hitler.

Moderate, Not Heavy Reparations

The Treaty provisions for exacting crushing reparations upon Germany, even more than the starvation blockade, were totally despised by the German people and helped precipitate a total collapse of the German economy due to hyperinflation by late 1922 paving the way for Hitler and the Nazis to take power a little over a decade later. The Versailles Treaty set German reparations at 226 billion, subsequently reduced to 132 billion gold marks, which they did not pay off in full until over ninety years later, thus consigning German citizens to economic servitude. When presented with the exorbitant demands of the treaty, the German delegation countered with an offer to pay $20 billion gold marks by 1926 which is the amount that Germany ended up paying before World War II in actual history. Had this counteroffer been accepted, reparations would have been much less of a sore point with the German people, making them much less likely to support a national socialist revolutionary like Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist (Nazi) Party. Assessing the Germans any higher reparations would have only served to ensure the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power just as it did in actual history. The British, led by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, were supportive of moderate reparations but the French insisted they be maximized to the greatest possible extent. A just treaty might have allowed for a temporary French occupation of the Rhineland until Germany had paid its reparations in full.

Many historians now agree that it was the Young Plan Referendum in 1929 that was viewed by many if not most Germans as a capitulation to continue to honor the terms of the punitive terms of the Versailles Treaty, most notably reparations payments, that catapulted Adolf Hitler from total obscurity to a mainstream political figure that was speaking alongside much venerated World War I heroes. It was in large part due to this five month political campaign against the Young Plan Referendum which enabled the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party to increase its share of the vote from 2.6% in the 1928 election to 18% in 1930 and 37% in 1932 making the Nazi Party the largest political party in the Reichstag. Had reparations payments along with the French occupation of the Rhineland ended by 1929, Hitler likely would have remained a forever obscure figure and conservatives would have remained aligned with the more moderate right-wing parties instead thereby consigning Hitler and the Nazis to serving as a mere asterisk of German history. It is no exaggeration to say that if the Allies had ended reparations instead of slightly reducing them with the Young Plan, Hitler and the Nazis never would have come to power.

No demilitarization of the Rhineland

Following Germany’s surrender, the French sought to have the German Rhineland become an independent French protectorate permanently occupied by French troops as a buffer zone against any future German aggression. However, the U.S. and Britain rightly rejected this proposal. Instead, the Treaty of Versailles mandated that the Rhineland be occupied by French troops for a period of seventeen years until 1935 after which it would become a permanently demilitarized zone thus allowing the Western Allies to re-occupy western Germany at their whim whenever they thought it was necessary to enforce the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles to ensure Germany remained perpetually disarmed, prostrate and unable to determine its own destiny. Germany was also forbidden to station any troops in the Rhineland or within fifty kilometers to the east of the Rhine River. The French and Belgians occupied the entire Ruhr industrial region including the right bank of the Rhine River between 1918-1919 and 1923-1925 following the German economic collapse, sparking civil disobedience protests against the dismissal of thousands of German officials and general strikes during which 130 German civilians were killed by French occupation troops. The brutal tactics employed by the French occupiers against the local German populace further radicalized Germany and helped made it ripe for takeover by the Nazis a decade later.

When Hitler moved to re-occupy the Rhineland, some of the most Germanophobic Allied leaders such as Winston Churchill viewed it as Germany’s first ‘aggression’–a myth which has been perpetrated by liberal historians, however incredulous it might seem to argue that occupying one’s own territory could in any way be painted as an international aggression. Regardless, a just treaty would have mandated a briefer French occupation of the Rhineland until 1926 instead of 1935 after which German forces should have been allowed to re-occupy their most western territory and rebuild defensive fortifications along their new post-war borders to provide for their own self-defense. In addition, a just treaty would not have permitted the French to occupy or set up a demilitarized zone along the right bank of the Rhine River. Finally, it would not have placed the coal-rich Saar territory under French rule until 1935 (and subsequently again from 1945-1957) but would have allowed Germany to pay its reparations obligations using natural resources in place of currency as in actual history.

No provision for Kaiser Wilhelm II to be tried for war crimes

The Treaty of Versailles requirement that the Kaiser be tried for war crimes was unjust as, arguably, the only ‘war crimes’ he was accused of was invading France, Belgium and Luxembourg and authorizing unrestricted submarine warfare during part of the war. However, the truth was that the Kaiser had gone to some lengths to avoid a breakout of war including urging Austria to be appeased with Serbia’s acceptance of nine of ten points of its July 23rd ultimatum, asking Austria to accept a temporary occupation of the Serbian capital of Belgrade supported by the Allied powers as punishment for the Serb assassination of the Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and pleading with his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, not to mobilize the Russian Army. After Britain’s Foreign Minister, Sir Edward Grey, offered Britain’s guarantee that both France and Britain would remain neutral in the event of an Austro-German war with the Russian Empire, the Kaiser ordered the German Army Chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Helmuth von Moltke, not to invade France or Belgium but to attack Russia instead.

Unfortunately for Germany, as previously noted von Moltke deliberately disobeyed the Kaiser’s orders and invaded Belgium and Luxembourg anyway, provoking the Kaiser to exclaim, “Your uncle would have given me a different answer!” thus ensuring British entry into the war and dooming Germany to virtually guaranteed defeat at Allied hands due to the illegal starvation blockade. If the Kaiser’s orders not to invade Belgium had been obeyed then there would have likely been no outbreak of war with Britain and France. Germany would have still won the war in the East against Russia, after which it might have liberated Russia from Soviet terror while the Bolsheviks were still relatively weak, surrounded by White Russian armies determined to defeat them. In any case, a treaty provision which merely barred the old Kaiser from ever resuming his previous role as Germany’s constitutional monarch in recognition of his limited role in initiating the conflict would have been much more reasonable.

The retention of the German monarchy would have served as an important check against extremism that might have likely ensured that Hitler never became the Fuhrer/dictator of Germany ensuring the democratically-elected German parliament retained the balance of power. In fact in his memoirs, Chancellor Heinrich Bruning stated that he attempted to restore the monarchy in 1932 for this very purpose but, regrettably, was unsuccessful. The right-wing German parties were almost all supporters of the monarchy so the chances of them supporting the democratically-elected parliamentary government and opposing any attempts to overthrow it would have been far higher with the retention of the German monarchy while the chances of them supporting revolutionary extremists like Hitler and the Nazis would have been dramatically reduced. In addition, the German Army would have continued to swear its oaths of allegiance to the Kaiser as its Commander-in-Chief, not to Hitler even in the unlikely event that Hitler had been elected Chancellor. In actual history, even with the army’s loyalty oath to Hitler, many if not most of the German resistance to Hitler hailed from German nobility who had been supporters of the monarchy along with senior German military leaders given that 11 German Field Marshals had, at one time or another, supported one of the 19 known coup assassination attempts against Hitler from 1938-1944.

In October 1918 immediately prior to requesting an armistice, Germany modified its Constitution and instigated a parliamentary system of government with the Kaiser as a mere figurehead. However, President Woodrow Wilson mandated the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II as a condition of accepting it so the Kaiser was forced to do so. German Chancellor Prince Max of Baden subsequently planned to make Kaiser Wilhelm II’s second son, Prince Eitel Friedrich, regent, but Germany’s Communist/socialist revolutions forced him to abandon this plan. So in August 1919 the German constitution formally changed their form of government from a constitutional monarchy similar to Britain to a constitutional republic. However, had the Allies ended the illegal starvation blockade of Germany and allowed retention of her merchant fleet in order to resume food shipments to the German people in November 1918, then support for Germany’s Communist and socialist revolutions would have likely decreased and Germany might have become stable enough to retain its constitutional monarchy before the Weimar republic was proclaimed in August 1919.

Germany to withdraw from all occupied territories and surrender all of her overseas colonies

Just as in actual history, Germany would be required to withdraw all of its troops from the territories it had occupied including northern France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Poland, which the Allies at the time recognized as approximating the borders of Congress Poland (as defined in 1815) and which had previously comprised part of the Russian Empire. Germany did not unite until 1871, joined the colonial game late and had comparatively few colonies relative to the vast, far reaching colonial empires of  the United Kingdom and France. Accordingly, her loss of colonies she had only possessed for less than half a century would not likely have had a major impact to her national pride. France, Britain, Japan and Australia ended up divvying up Germany’s colonies between them after the war. However, in the case of Japan, those colonies were subsequently used as jumping off points for future aggression by the Japanese during the Pacific War.

Please see Part 2 to find out what the second half of a just negotiated peace between the Allies and Germany might have looked like.

© David T. Pyne 2019

David T. Pyne, Esq. is a former U.S. Army combat arms and H.Q. staff officer with a M.A. in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. He currently serves as a Vice President of the Association of the United States Army’s Utah Chapter and as Utah Director of the EMP Caucus on National and Homeland Security. He can be reached at [email protected]

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