History of Germany

Postwar Occupation and Division

On May 8, 1945, the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces (Wehrmacht) was signed by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel in Berlin, ending World War II for Germany. The German people were suddenly confronted by a situation never before experienced in their history: the entire German territory was occupied by foreign armies, cities and infrastructure were largely reduced to rubble, the country was flooded with millions of refugees from the east, and large portions of the population were suffering from hunger and the loss of their homes. The nation-state founded by Otto von Bismarck in 1871 lay in ruins.

The Establishment of Occupation Zones

The total breakdown of civil administration throughout the country required immediate measures to ensure the rebuilding of civil authority. After deposing Admiral Karl Dönitz, Hitler's successor as head of state, and his government, the Allies issued a unilateral declaration on June 5, 1945, that proclaimed their supreme authority over German territory, short of annexation. The Allies would govern Germany through four occupation zones, one for each of the Four Powers--the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.

The establishment of zones of occupation had been decided at a series of conferences. At the conference in Casablanca, held in January 1943, British prime minister Winston Churchill's proposal to invade the Balkans and East-Central Europe via Greece was rejected. This decision opened the road for Soviet occupation of eastern Germany. At the Tehran Conference in late 1943, the western border of postwar Poland and the division of Germany were among the topics discussed. As a result of the conference, a commission began to work out detailed plans for the occupation and administration of Germany after the war. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, participants decided that in addition to United States, British, and Soviet occupation zones in Germany, the French were also to have an occupation zone, carved out of the United States and British zones.

The relative harmony that had prevailed among the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union began to show strains at the Potsdam Conference, held from July 17 to August 2, 1945. In most instances, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was successful in getting the settlements he desired. One of his most far-reaching victories was securing the conference's approval of his decision to compensate Poland for the loss of territory in the east to the Soviet Union by awarding it administrative control over parts of Germany. Pending the negotiation of a peace treaty with Germany, Poland was to administer the German provinces of Pomerania, Silesia, and the southern portion of East Prussia. The forcible "transfer" to the west of Germans living in these provinces was likewise approved.

The movement westward of Germans living east of a line formed by the Oder and western Neisse rivers resulted in the death or disappearance of approximately 2 million Germans, while an estimated 12 million Germans lost their homes. The presence of these millions of refugees in what remained German territory in the west was a severe hardship for the local populations and the occupation authorities.

The conferees at Potsdam also decided that each occupying power was to receive reparations in the form of goods and industrial equipment in compensation for its losses during the war. Because most German industry lay outside its zone, it was agreed that the Soviet Union was to take industrial plants from the other zones and in exchange supply them with agricultural products. The Allies, remembering the political costs of financial reparations after World War I, had decided that reparations consisting of payments in kind were less likely to imperil the peace after World War II.

The final document of the Potsdam Conference, the Potsdam Accord, also included provisions for demilitarizing and denazifying Germany and for restructuring German political life on democratic principles. German economic unity was to be preserved.

The boundaries of the four occupation zones established at Yalta generally followed the borders of the former German federal states (Länder ; sing., Land ). Only Prussia constituted an exception: it was dissolved altogether, and its territory was absorbed by the remaining German Länder in northern and northwestern Germany. Prussia's former capital, Berlin, differed from the rest of Germany in that it was occupied by all four Allies--and thus had so-called Four Power status. The occupation zone of the United States consisted of the Land of Hesse, the northern half of the present-day Land of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, and the southern part of Greater Berlin. The British zone consisted of the Länder of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, and the western sector of Greater Berlin. The French were apportioned the Länder of Rhineland-Palatinate, the Saarland--which later received a special status--the southern half of Baden-Württemberg, and the northern sector of Greater Berlin. The Soviet Union controlled the Länder of Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, and the eastern sector of Greater Berlin, which constituted almost half the total area of the city.

The zones were governed by the Allied Control Council (ACC), consisting of the four supreme commanders of the Allied Forces. The ACC's decisions were to be unanimous. If agreement could not be reached, the commanders would forego unified actions, and each would confine his attention to his own zone, where he had supreme authority. Indeed, the ACC had no executive authority of its own, but rather had to rely on the cooperation of each military governor to implement its decisions in his occupation zone. Given the immense problems involved in establishing a provisional administration, unanimity was often lacking, and occupation policies soon varied.

The French, for instance, vetoed the establishment of a central German administration, a decision that furthered the country's eventual division. Because they had not participated in the Potsdam Conference, the French did not feel bound to the conference's decision that the country would remain an economic unit. Instead, the French sought to extract as much as they could from Germany and even annexed the Saar area for a time.

The Soviet occupiers likewise sought to recover as much as possible from Germany as compensation for the losses their country had sustained during the war. Unlike the French, however, they sought to influence Germany as a whole and hoped to hold an expanded area of influence. In their own zone, the Soviet authorities quickly moved toward establishing a socialist society like their own.

The United States had the greatest interest in denazification and in the establishment of a liberal democratic system. Early plans, such as the Morgenthau Plan to keep Germans poor by basing their economy on agriculture, were dropped as the Soviet Union came to be seen as a threat and Germany as a potential ally.

Britain had the least ambitious plans for its zone. However, British authorities soon realized that unless Germany became economically self-sufficient, British taxpayers would bear the expense of feeding its population. To facilitate German economic self-sufficiency, United States and British occupation policies soon merged, and by the beginning of 1947 their zones had been joined into one economic area--the Bizone.

The Nuremberg Trials and Denazification

The Allies agreed that Germany should never again have the opportunity to destroy European peace as it had in the two world wars. A principal aim of the Allies was to prevent the resurgence of a powerful and aggressive Germany. As a first step toward demilitarizing, denazifying, and democratizing Germany, the Allies established an international military tribunal in August 1945 to jointly try individuals considered responsible for the outbreak of the war and for crimes committed by the Hitler regime. Nuremberg, the city where the most elaborate political rallies of the Hitler regime had been staged, was chosen as the location for the trials, which began in November 1945.

On trial were twenty-two men seen as principally responsible for the National Socialist regime, its administration, and the direction of the German armed forces, the Wehrmacht. Among the defendants accused of conspiracy, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and war crimes were Hermann Goering, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Hess, and Albert Speer. Although many Germans considered the accusation of conspiracy to be on questionable legal grounds, the accusers were successful in unveiling the background of developments that had led to the outbreak of World War II, as well as the extent of the atrocities committed in the name of the Hitler regime. Twelve of the accused were sentenced to death, seven received prison sentences, and three were acquitted.

The trials received wide publicity in Germany and throughout the world. Although many Germans maintained that it would have been better if the defendants had faced a German tribunal rather than one imposed by the war's foreign victors, they agreed that the trials made public much information about the mass murders and other crimes that otherwise might not have come to light. The German people and the rest of the world reacted with horror and dismay to the revelations. The trials of these more prominent figures of the Hitler regime were followed by the trials of thousands of lesser offenders.

The Allies did not seek merely to punish the leadership of the National Socialist regime, but to purge all elements of national socialism from public life. One phase of the denazification process dealt with lower-level personnel connected with the Nazi regime. Their pasts were reviewed to determine if the parts they had played in the regime were sufficiently grievous to warrant their exclusion from roles in a new Germany's politics or government. Germans with experience in government and not involved in the Nazi regime were needed to cooperate with occupation authorities in the administration of the zones.

The process of denazification was carried out diversely in the various zones. The most elaborate procedures were instituted in the United States zone, where investigated individuals were required to complete highly detailed questionnaires concerning their personal histories and to appear at hearings before panels of German adjudicators. In the British and French zones, denazification was pursued with less vigor because the authorities thought it more important to reestablish a functioning bureaucracy in their sectors.

Denazification was most rigorous in the Soviet sector. Civil servants, teachers, and legal officials with significant Nazi pasts were thoroughly purged. Denazification was also used as an instrument for seizing the resources of the so-called "class enemy": former Nazis who owned factories or estates were denounced and their property confiscated. After participating in the social transformation, some former Nazis were pardoned and even gained high positions within the new communist ruling class.

The denazification process mandated that simpler cases involving lesser offenders be tried before more complicated cases involving officials higher up in the Nazi regime. With time, however, prosecution became less severe, and the United States came to be more concerned with the Cold War. When denazification ended in March 1948, the more serious cases had not yet been tried. As a result, numerous former Nazi functionaries escaped justice, much to the regret of many Germans.

Political Parties and Democratization

The reintroduction of democratic political parties in Germany was one of the primary concerns of the Allies during the final phase of the war. The Soviet authorities were the first to reestablish political parties in their zone. They ordered the formation of political parties on June 10, 1945, well before such a directive was issued in the Western zones. In addition to seeking to control their own zone, they hoped to influence the emerging political constellations in the Western zones by the early mobilization of a strong leftist movement.

On June 11, the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands--KPD) was reestablished in the Soviet zone under a German leadership that, for the most part, had lived for years in Moscow. Wilhelm Pieck was its chairman. Shortly thereafter, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands--SPD) was also reconstituted, under the leadership of Otto Grotewohl. When it became obvious that the SPD would emerge as the most popular leftist party in the Soviet zone, the Soviet authorities forced the merger of the KPD and the SPD in April 1946 and subsequently, from this merger, the formation of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands--SED). The Communists clearly had the upper hand in SED leadership. Vigorous resistance to the merger of the two leftist parties came from Social Democrats in the Western zones, led by Kurt Schumacher, a veteran Social Democratic politician and member of the Reichstag during the Weimar Republic and a political prisoner during the Third Reich. As a result of this principled opposition to Communist control, the rebuilding of the SPD in the Western zones took a separate course.

The SED sought to retain the image of a political force open to the masses, and it governed through the active participation of its members. It also competed with other parties in regional elections. After the Land elections of October 1946 in which the SED failed to obtain an absolute majority, the party resorted to different tactics in order to secure its grip on the electorate. SED leaders created an Anti-Fascist Bloc consisting of all political parties that was to guarantee the introduction of an antifascist and democratic order in the Soviet zone. From the very beginning, the SED could veto any proposal from any other bloc party not in accordance with its ideals for a socialist society. As a result, the two other political parties authorized in the Soviet zone were purged of their leadership, and their party programs were realigned in support of SED goals. The two other parties were the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union--CDU), which represented middle-class interests, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (Liberal-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands--LDPD), which represented the liberal political tradition that dated back to the late 1840s.

Two additional bloc parties were established in 1948 in the Soviet zone to represent groups still without a specific political party. The Democratic Peasants' Party of Germany (Demokratische Bauernpartei Deutschlands--DBD) was formed to prepare farmers for the planned land reform, which would involve extensive nationalizations. The second party, the National Democratic Party of Germany (National-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands--NDPD), was to work at reintegrating into a socialist society approximately 2 million people of right-wing views. The group included veterans and a relatively large number of former members of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (National-Sozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei--NSDAP), Adolf Hitler's party.

The Social Democratic Party that operated in the Western zones was, in contrast to the Eastern SPD, markedly anticommunist. This attitude reflected a continuation of its bitter hostility to the Communists during the Weimar Republic. The reestablished party, headed by Kurt Schumacher and, after his death, by Erich Ollenhauer, could look back on a distinguished history of creating better living conditions for the working class within the context of parliamentary democracy. Although anticommunist, the SPD's leadership still regarded the party as Marxist and remained committed to working for a socialist economy. As such, the SPD envisioned a neutral socialist Germany located between the capitalist economies of the West and the Soviet dictatorship of the East. The SPD was able to build on its extensive working-class membership, which predated Hitler's seizure of power in 1933.

For the conservative forces, the political beginning after 1945 appeared more difficult because of past fragmentation on regional and denominational lines. The persecution and suppression suffered during the Third Reich by conservative Catholics and Protestants alike gave rise to a unified Christian conservative party, which would represent all who opposed communism and socialism and who held traditional Christian middle-class values. At first, several regional political organizations formed in Berlin, Cologne, and Frankfurt am Main. On December 16, 1945, it was agreed that their collective designation should be called the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union--CDU).

During the initial phase of development, members of the Christian labor unions strongly influenced the program of the conservative movement. Although they did not dispute the concept of private ownership of property, they advocated state control for many principal industries. During the 1950s, a market-oriented policy that was combined with a strong social component came to dominate the party.

The Bavarian Christian conservative organization, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union--CSU), founded in October 1946, remained a separate party organization and kept its name even after the foundation of the FRG. It followed a more pronounced conservative ideological party line than the CDU.

Even more difficult than the political unification of Christian conservatives was the consolidation of the liberal movement in postwar Germany. Traditionally, the liberals had been divided into a conservative national liberal wing and a more leftist-oriented liberal movement. There was also a reservoir of voters who understood themselves to be truly liberal in that they did not commit themselves to any ideology. Common to all of the party groupings, however, was the rejection of a planned economy. A number of independent liberal party groups existed for a time in southwestern Germany and in Hesse, Hamburg, and Berlin. In November 1948, most of them united in the Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei--FDP), whose main figure, Theodor Heuss, became the first federal president of the FRG.

The Creation of the Bizone

By early 1946, the Western Allies--the United States and Britain in particular--had become convinced that Soviet expansionism had to be contained. The Soviet Union's seizure of Polish territory and the drawing of the Oder-Neisse border (which gave formerly German territory to Poland), its antidemocratic actions in other countries occupied by Soviet forces, and its policies toward areas such as Greece and Turkey persuaded Western leaders that the Soviet Union was aiming for communist domination of Europe. Churchill's use of the expression "Iron Curtain" to describe the Soviet cordoning off of a sphere of influence in Europe illustrated a basic change in attitude toward Soviet intentions on the part of Western leaders. As a result of this change, Germany came to be seen more as a potential ally than as a defeated enemy.

The change in attitude led United States officials to take a more active role in Germany. A notable early example of this policy change was a speech given in Stuttgart in September 1946 by the United States secretary of state, James F. Byrnes, proposing the transfer of administrative functions from the existing military governments to a single civilian German administration. Byrnes stated that the United States had not defeated the Nazi dictatorship to keep Germans suppressed but instead wanted them to become a free, self-governing, and prosperous people. The speech was the first significant indication that Germany was not to remain an outcast but was, according to Byrnes, to have "an honorable place among the free and peace-loving nations of the world."

Neither the Soviet Union nor France desired a revitalized Germany, but after intensive negotiations, a unified economic zone, the Bizone, consisting of the United States and British zones, was proclaimed on January 1, 1947. After a difficult beginning, the Bizone proved itself a success, and its population of 40 million began to benefit from an improving economy. Only in the spring of 1949, after a period of sustained economic growth, did the French occupation zone join the Bizone, creating the Trizone.

In mid-1947 the European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan as it is more widely known, was announced. The plan's aim was to stimulate the economies on the continent through the infusion of large-scale credits for the promotion of trade between Europe and the United States. The United States stipulated only that Europe's economy was to be united and that Europeans were to participate actively in the administration of the program. The Soviet Union suspected that the proposal was a means to prevent it from harvesting the fruits of the victory over fascism. Deeming the proposal a direct affront to its communist ideology by "American economic imperialism," the Soviet Union promptly rejected participation in the program, as did the East European states, obviously acting on Soviet orders.

To fulfill the precondition of economic cooperation in Europe, sixteen Western countries joined the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation in early 1948. In April 1948, the United States Congress approved the Foreign Assistance Act, which arranged the provision of aid. Shortly thereafter, industrial products, consumer goods, credits, and outright monetary gifts started to flow into the impoverished economies of Western Europe. Cities, industries, and infrastructure destroyed during the war were rapidly rebuilt, and the economies of the war-torn countries began to recover. In the Western zones, aid from the Marshall Plan laid the foundations for the West German "economic miracle" of the 1950s.

A functioning currency system was also needed for a growing economy. The war economy of the National Socialist government had created an oversupply of currency not matched by a supply of goods. To combat the resulting black-market economy, especially noticeable in large cities, and to aid economic recovery in western Germany, a central bank was founded and a currency reform was proclaimed on June 19, 1948. The reform introduced the deutsche mark. In exchange for sixty reichsmarks, each citizen received DM40. Additionally, controls over prices and basic supplies were lifted by authorities, thus abruptly wiping out the black market.

The swift action of the Western powers took the Soviet authorities by surprise, and they quickly implemented a separate currency reform for their zone and all of Berlin. The Western powers, however, had already ordered the distribution of deutsche marks in their sectors of the city. This measure, which for the Soviet Union represented the culmination of the Western policy to undermine Soviet efforts to build a socialist society in its zone, produced a sudden dramatic reaction, the Soviet blockade of Berlin.

On June 24, 1948, Soviet troops blocked all road and rail connections to West Berlin. Within a few days, shipping on the Spree and Havel rivers was halted; electric power, which had been supplied to West Berlin by plants in the Soviet zone, was cut off; and supplies of fresh food from the surrounding countryside were suddenly unavailable. The Four Power status of Berlin, agreed upon by the Allied victors, had not included any provisions regarding traffic by land to and from Berlin through the Soviet zone. It had, however, established three air corridors from the Western zones to the city.

The three Western powers acted swiftly: an airlift of unprecedented dimensions was organized to supply the 2.5 million inhabitants of the Western sectors of Berlin with what they needed to survive. The United States military governor in Germany, General Lucius D. Clay, successfully coordinated the airlift, which deployed 230 United States and 150 British airplanes. Up to 10,000 tons of supplies were flown in daily, including coal and other heating fuels for the winter. Altogether, about 275,000 flights succeeded in keeping West Berliners alive for nearly a year.

The Soviet Union had not expected such Western resolve. Failing in its attempt to starve the Western Allies out of Berlin, it lifted the blockade on May 12, 1949. The Western Allies, led by the United States, had stood their ground without provoking armed conflict. Although the blockade had ended, its effects on Berlin were lasting. By June 16, 1948, realizing that it would not achieve its goal of a socialist Germany, the Soviet Union withdrew from the ACC, prompting the Western Allies to create a separate administration for their sectors. At the end of 1948, two municipal administrations existed, and Berlin had become a divided city. A more significant effect was perhaps that, in Western eyes, Berlin was no longer seen as the capital of Hitler's Germany but rather as a symbol of freedom and the struggle to preserve Western civic values.

Germany History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress