Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The High Price of Peace

The Treaty of Saint-Germain and the origin of Austria’s frontiers

The aim of the peace conferences held in the suburbs of Paris between January 1919 and August 1920 was to create a new international order.

The peace concluded with the German Empire, German-Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey was regulated by the treaties of Versailles, Saint-Germain, Neuilly, Trianon and Sèvres respectively, and these also laid down the post-war order. The peace negotiations were in essence based on the ‘Fourteen Points’ of the American president Woodrow Wilson, in which he called, among other things, for the establishment of a League of Nations as well as self-determination of the peoples. The tenth of these points states:

The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.

 According to Wilson, the individual ethnic groups or nationalities were, if they so wished, in future to have their own states. The hopes of the defeated powers to claim this right of self-determination also for themselves were, however, not fulfilled. The Allies saw the Republic of German-Austria as the direct successor of the Danube Monarchy which had been responsible for the outbreak of the First World War, which is why the small newly created state was given no say in the negotiations and had to accept in their entirety the conditions imposed on it.

Like the German Empire, Austria had to accept the loss of large swathes of territory and could not push through its demand that all German speakers of the former Habsburg monarchy should be brought together in the newly founded republic. While the south of Carinthia and Burgenland fell to Austria after a period of many conflicts, other (partly) German-speaking areas were lost – including South Tyrol, the Kanaltal/Val Canale, South Styria, the Miess/Mežica valley to the south of the Karawanken mountains, and parts of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. As a result of the peace negotiations in Paris, only 6.5 million out of a total ten million German-speaking inhabitants remained in Austria. It was no longer allowed to use the name German-Austria. In addition any union with Germany was forbidden. This was why the treaty between Austria and the twenty-seven allied and associated powers signed by Chancellor Karl Renner in the chateau of Saint-Germain on 10 September 1919 tended to be seen as a ‘dictated peace’, or, in the exaggerated formulation of the then head of state Karl Seitz, as a ‘totally destructive peace’.

However, the frontiers which were laid down in the Paris peace treaties for the states of Central and Eastern Europe took the claims of the individual ethnic groups into consideration only to a limited extent. There was no long-term solution to the problems of minorities and nationalities. For example, in the republic of Czechoslovakia 43% of the population were Czechs and 22% Slovaks, while 23% were Germans, 5% Hungarians, 3% Ukrainians and 4% Jews.

The situation was made worse because in many cases the First World War had led to an increase in nationalism. 


Translation: Leigh Bailey


Berger, Peter: Kurze Geschichte Österreichs im 20. Jahrhundert, 2. Auflage, Wien 2008

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Hanisch, Ernst: Österreichische Geschichte 1890-1990. Der lange Schatten des Staates. Österreichische Gesellschaftsgeschichte im 20. Jahrhundert, Wien 1994

Mikoletzky, Lorenz: Saint-Germain und Karl Renner. Eine Republik wird diktiert, in: Konrad, Helmut/Maderthaner, Wolfgang (Hrsg.): Das Werden der Ersten Republik … der Rest ist Österreich. Bd. I, Wien 2008, 179-186

Möller, Horst: Europa zwischen den Weltkriegen, München 1998

Sandgruber, Roman: Das 20. Jahrhundert, Wien 2003

Suppan, Arnold: Österreich und seine Nachbarn 1918-1938, in: Karner, Stefan/Mikoletzky, Lorenz (Hrsg.): Österreich. 90 Jahre Republik. Beitragsband der Ausstellung im Parlament, Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen 2008, 499-512

Vocelka, Karl: Geschichte Österreichs. Kultur – Gesellschaft – Politik, 3. Auflage, Graz/Wien/Köln 2002

14-Punkte-Programm von US-Präsident Woodrow Wilson. Unter: (22.04.2013)



"The peoples of Austria-Hungary ...“: Woodrow Wilson, quoted from: Website des Deutschen Historischen Museums. Unter: (22.04.2013), (Translation)

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    After the war

    The First World War marked the end of the “long nineteenth century”. The monarchic empires were replaced by new political players. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy disintegrated into separate nation states. The Republic of German Austria was proclaimed in November 1918, and Austria was established as a federal state in October 1920. The years after the war were highly agitated ­– in a conflicting atmosphere of revolution and defeat, and political, economic, social and cultural achievements and setbacks.


Persons, Objects & Events