At 3:15 p.m. Clemenceau rose and announced, "The
meeting is opened." He then spoke briefly in French:
An agreement has been reached upon the conditions of the
treaty of peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and
the German Empire. The text has been verified; the president
of the conference has certified in writing that the text about to
be signed conformed to the text of the 200 copies which have
been sent to the German delegates. The signatures about to be
given constitute an irrevocable engagement to carry out
loyally and faithfully in their entirety all the conditions that
have been decided upon. I therefore have the honor of asking
the German plenipotentiaries to affix their signatures to the
treaty before me.
|Clemenceau Invites the German Representative to Sign the Treaty|
The Germans rose quickly from their seats when he had
finished his remarks, knowing that they were the first to
sign, but William Martin, director of protocol, motioned
them to sit down. Mantoux, the official interpreter,
began translating Clemenceau's words into German. In
his first sentence, when he reached the words, "the
German Empire," or, as Clemenceau had said in French,
"l'empire allemande," re-translated it as, "the German
Republic." While this change reflected political realities,
Clemenceau whispered, "Say 'German Reich,'" this
being the term employed by the Germans.
Paul Dutasta, general secretary of the conference, then
led the five Germans—two plenipotentiaries and three
secretaries—to the treaty table where Mueller and Bell,
two lonely men in simple black frock coats among the
sea of colorful military and diplomatic uniforms, signed
their names. Bell's pen did not work and one of Colonel
Edward House's secretaries offered his personal pen for
the German's use. Mueller appended his name in the
cramped manner of a man trying to hide his
involvement in a dubious action, while Bell, using the
loaned instrument, scrawled his nervous approval in
The delegation from the United States followed the
Germans. President Wilson rose, and as he began his
walk to the historic table, followed in order by Secretary
of State Robert Lansing, Colonel House, General Tasker
Bliss, and Henry White, other delegates stretched out
their hands in congratulation. He came forward with a
broad smile and signed his name at the spot indicated
by William Marten. Lloyd George, together with Arthur
Balfour, Viscount Milner, and Andrew Bonar Law,
followed the Americans. Then came the delegates from
the British dominions, followed by the representatives
of France, in order, Clemenceau, Stephen Pichon, Louis
Klotz, André Tardieu, and Jules Cambon; the president
of the council signed his name without seating himself.
The general tension that had prevailed before the
Germans had signed was now gone. There was a
general relaxation; conversation hummed again in an
undertone. The remaining delegations, headed by those
of Italy, Japan, and Belgium, stood up one by and
passed onward to the queue waiting by the signing
table. Meanwhile adventuresome onlookers
congregated around the main table getting autographs.
Everything went quickly. The efficient officials of the
Quai d'Orsay stood attentively in position indication
places to sign, enforcing procedures, blotting with neat
Suddenly, as Ignace Jan Paderewski, the Polish
plenipotentiary, was signing his name, from outside
came the crash of guns thundering a salute, announcing
to Paris that the Germans had signed the peace treaty.
Through the few open windows came the sound of
distant crowds cheering hoarsely.
|German Plenipotentiaries Hermann Mueller and |
Johannes Bell Signing the Treaty
At 3:50 p.m. the signing was complete. The
protocol officials renewed their "Ssh! Ssh!" injunction,
cutting short the loud, invasive chatter. There was a
final hush. Clemenceau announced, "Gentlemen, all of
the signatures have been given. The signing of the peace
conditions between the Allied and Associated powers
and the German Reich is an accomplished fact. The
conference is over. "
The Germans were the first to leave the Hall of Mirrors,
conducted out like prisoners from the dock, their eyes
fixed straight ahead. They immediately took their
automobiles to their hotel where they issued a statement
to the press:
We have signed the treaty without any mental reservation.
What we have signed we will carry out. The German people
will compel those in power to hold to and conform to the
clauses. But we believe that the Entente, in its own interest,
will consider it necessary to modify some articles when it
becomes aware that the execution of these articles is
impossible. We believe that the Entente will not insist upon
the delivery of the Kaiser and upon that of the high officers.
The central government has now made every effort to prove
that she is worthy of entering the League of Nations.
In the palace the delegates rose and congratulated each
other as the ceremony concluded in the roar of the
cannonade. Many lesser notables streamed out of the
building to join the crowd that had begun shouting in
wild enthusiasm with the first sound of the guns. Slowly
the crowd in the great hall cleared, the press through a
side door, the rest through the Hall of Honor. The
famous fountains of the park added their display to the
joyous moment for the first time since the onset of the
Clemenceau invited Wilson and Lloyd George to view
the fountains with him. The moment that the three men
appeared before the distant crowd a great wave of
wildly cheering humanity burst through the cordon of
troops and swept toward them. They locked arms and,
proceeded by a protective cordon of troops, worked
their way to the terrace above the beautifully
maintained grounds. After a brief look at the grounds
they hurried back inside, Clemenceau, with shorter legs,
being hard put to keep pace with his Anglo-Saxon
colleagues. The three leaders then went to the salon of
the old senate where they had tea—the ritual
beverage of the conference—with Baron Soanino of
Italy and Baron Makino of Japan. Afterward they went
their separate ways.
At 9:45 that evening, Wilson, together with his wife and
several friends and associates awaiting him at the Gare des
Invalides in Paris, boarded a special train
for the trip to Brest, where the liner George Washington
for departure. He was eager to begin the ratification
process. Lloyd George likewise left Paris that evening. He had
grave domestic issues at home requiring his attention.
The Germans, Mueller and Bell, left their hotel at 9 p.m.
Their automobiles drove through the city to a small,
remote station, Choisy-le-Roi, where a special train
waited for them. The French officials who had acted as
their escort took perfunctory leave. Everyone was
painfully correct. As the train moved along, crowds of
Frenchmen stood at the small local stations to observe
its passage. At various points individuals shouted jeers
and gave obscene gestures; at some stations others threw
rocks. But the train continued into the night toward the
|French 75s Preparing to Fire the Celebratory Barrage|
For the rest of the day and throughout the night,
Versailles and Paris, throwing aside the requested "calm
and dignity," gave themselves up to a delirium of joy
and celebration. As darkness fell Paris went mad in a
sea of pyrotechnics. Before 6 p.m. the crowds had
become so dense that all motor traffic ceased throughout
the principal thoroughfares. After 8 p.m. crossing the
boulevards was virtually impossible, while moving
from square to square in less than an hour was a record
speed. American soldiers, wild with joy, some wearing
strange hats, caromed along the streets, arm-in-arm with
their triumphant French comrades. Impromptu bands
gathered on street comers to play for the dancing merrymakers.
The most heard songs were the "Marseillaise"
and "Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here."
Across the Rhine, in somber contrast, every town in
Germany hoisted mourning flags at half-staff.
Newspapers, with heavy black bands, headlined "The
End" and "Germany's Fate Is Sealed." There were no
cheers and no music.
This was the day at Versailles, 28 June 1919.