Bundesarchiv unchecked


28 June 1919, the fifth anniversary of the Austrian archduke's violent death in Sarajevo, the second half of the afternoon in Versailles, France. It is rightfully known to many, in which contemporaries cannot be distinguished from later generations, that Germany's summoned delegation consisting of two men was guided to enter the Hall of Mirrors in order to sign the Treaty and "League of Versailles". Once the 33 (28 plus five British colonies) signatures were put to paper, the three-time prolonged 1918 armistice was terminated. Off the German duo went through the same side door. Both were called into their new functions of Foreign Secretary respectively Minister of Transport just days ago. Hermann Müller followed Count Brockdorff Rantzau who joined the first chancellor of the German republic in resignment following their reading of the dictated concept treaty: "Die Deutsche Friedensdelegation hat ... erkennen müssen, dass in entscheidenden Punkten die vereinbarte Basis des Rechtsfriedens verlassen ist." (Ulrich Herrmann).

With this fall of the republic's founding fathers after having been in charge for a few months, Müller's colleague Johannes Bell changed ministerial functions. Over the same winter days when the Paris conference started, German chancellor Philipp Scheidemann appointed Bell as a Colonial Secretary. In this very moment of „Weimar“ instituting this brand-new function, in Paris, the British delegations challenged friend and foe, particularly the United States delegation under the lead of Woodrow Wilson, by secretively prioritizing the colonial question. The final of the president's Fourteen Points: the conceptualized League of Nations, was discussed according to schedule. How these two issues, numbers five and fourteen, were interwoven at the expense of Wilson's design and the absentee Weimar Republic, under pressure of the British and their colonists, is being dealt with consistently in my German-language centenary title. At the time of Britain's European-movement splitting unilateralism, this Dutch historian decided against using the English language in the process of producing his second volume. Predominantly, the author's motivation can be attributed to the Anglo-Saxon predominance of historiography, which obviously has linguistic repercussions. At the same time, an overwhelming majority of Federal Germany's historians have not managed to sufficiently counter London's "winner's narrative." In the second century following the events, the influence of propagandistic elements can still be discerned. It leaves the general narrative outdated.

As of 2016, this sounds even more astounding from a continental perspective. The overtly anti-European stance of Brexit Britain should have opened many eyes. Instead of repeating the familiar tale, particularly the Germans should have taken a chance to elaborate on anniversaries, such as the United States opting out of the Treaty and "Bund von Versailles" in opposition to their president. As a matter of fact, they subsequently negotiated a separate peace treaty with Weimar under Wilson's successor Warren Harding (See Aufa💯 blogpost The First Peace).

Symptomatic is a German case of state representation on which this blogpost centres on. Check the Federal Archive pages unter the title Dekolonisierung. Sabine Herrmann counts for the following statements under a copy of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert's letter to Reichsminister Bell (21 June 1919, the day when the officers of Germany's disarmed and interned navy in British waters decided to scuttle their 71 vessels in order to prevent a more sure than likely confiscation by David Lloyd George's government and delegation in Paris):

1. Bell's appointment as a Colonial Secretary on 21 June

2. One week before the conference closure, Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert appointed a Colonial Secretary for the last time (both translated from German).

Based on diligent research over decades in several countries, our argument is that President Ebert did not. Even in mainstream history books (school included), it reads that the dictated treaty was signed by Germany's Foreign Secretary and Minister of Transport.(1)

Actually, the state archive's above-mentioned primary source does not really allow for any alternative reading. In the final week of the Paris conference, newly appointed Verkehrsminister Bell was also entrusted with the affairs of the now insubstantial ministry. Five months after the hidden coup of imperialist Lloyd George's agents from Australia to France, nobody needed to doubt its outcome. In a clear violation of the 1918 Armistice agreement – see the Brockdorff-Rantzau quote â€“, a British double delegation (next to Lloyd George's one the novelty of a British Imperial Delegation) destroyed the adversary's colonial empire. Behind the League's mask, it usurped respectively divided the spoils. Consequently, Weimar's second government turned out right in its disbelief that retaining a colonial ministry would make sense.

It seems that roughly a hundred years ago, the Germans conducted and recorded their policies with much more accuracy than the appropriate history is being mastered by the federal government's personnel in charge. We would be happy to assist Ms Hermann with a the necessary amendments, a hot contribution to the postcolonial debate at that.

Addition critique on Bundesarchiv's Sabine Herrmann

1. Regarding the entire period of the Paris Conference, Britain's role as a key player is expressed in passive meanings time and again. From the first hour of the conference, this country's delegations put the order upside down in much more than one respect (outlined in "Hundert Jahre Urkatastrophe. Der Kolonialvertrag 1919"). Apart from Lloyd George's delegation, the British Imperial Delegation played by far the most active role during the international winter of 1919. After some initial protests, the other delegates resigned and quickly followed the British lead in its relentless power politics.

2. Scrutinize the bibliography. A contentious history such as the one of the prolonged armistice would benefit from "neutral sources". The author listed zero literature from Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland or non-aligned non-European countries.

3. It reads that Britain was allotted two mandates, i.d. Cameroon and Tanganyika (former German East-Africa). As a matter of fact, Jan Christiaan Smuts, a Lloyd George for the Empire's white colonies and this British delegation leader took all of Germany's colonies in Asia south of the equator, today's Namibia, Togo, Taganyika and Cameroon. Wordings such as "to be allotted" and "retention" of German colonies bear the stamp of propagandists.

Peter de Bourgraaf


1.  Lena Mörike. Nationale Geschichtspolitik. Der Versailler Friedensvertrag in der 100-jährigen Erinnerung in Schulbüchern aus vier Nationen, transcript Verlag: Bielefeld, 2022, S. 149.