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Germany from 1945 to the present - part 1

Reorientation after 1945. Following the unconditional surrender of the German forces on 8/9 May 1945, the last government of the German Reich, headed by Admiral Karl Donitz, remained in power for another 23 days. Its members were then arrested and, together with other nazi leaders, tried by the Nuremberg Tribunal for crimes against peace and humanity.

On 5 June the victorious, powers the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and France assumed supreme authority in the territory of the Reich. Their basic objective, according to the London Protocol (12 September 1944) and follow-up agreements, was to exercise total control over Germany. They divided the country into three occupation zones, and Berlin, the capital, into three sectors. There was an Allied Control Council composed of the three commanders-in-chief. Once and for all Germany was to be prevented from again aspiring to world domination as she had done in 1914 and 1939. The allies wanted to curb her appetite for conquest, to destroy Prussia as a stronghold of militarism, to punish the Germans for genocide and war crimes, and to reeducate them in the democratic spirit.

At the conference of Yalta (Crimea) held in February 1945, France was coopted as the fourth controlling power and allocated its own occupation zone. In Yalta the only allied intention which remained valid was that of terminating Germany's existence as an independent state but keeping the country intact. Stalin especially was keen to preserve Germany's economic unity. He demanded such huge reparations for the Soviet Union's terrible sacrifices as a result of Germany's invasion that they could not possibly have been made by one occupation zone alone. Moscow wanted 20 billion dollars and control over 80 per cent of all of Germany's factories.

In contrast to the original plans, the British and Americans, too, wanted to preserve a viable rump Germany, not out of greed for reparations but because, as from about the autumn of 1944, US President Roosevelt was aiming to establish a stable Central Europe as part of a system of global balances. Germany's economic stability was indispensable to this plan. He had therefore quickly discarded the notorious Morgenthau Plan (September 1944), which would have reduced Germany to an agricultural country.

Soon the only common aim remaining to the victorious powers was that of disarming and demilitarizing Germany. The original idea of partitioning the country quickly became no more than 'lip-service to a dying idea' (Charles Bohlen) when the western powers watched with dismay as Stalin, immediately upon liberating, that is to say conquering, Poland and south-eastern Europe, launched a massive operation to sovietize those regions.

On 12 May 1945 Churchill cabled President Truman that an 'iron curtain' had come down in front of the Soviet troops and that no one knew what was going on behind it. But the western powers carefully weighed up the possible consequences of letting Stalin have a say in reparations on the Rhine and the Ruhr. The result was that at the Potsdam Conference (17 July to 2 August 1945), the original aim of which was to create a new European order, agreements were reached which consolidated rather than eased the tensions. The four powers agreed on the matter of denazification, demilitarization, economic decentralization and the reeducation of the Germans along democratic lines. The western powers also agreed to the expulsion of Germans from Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The west had insisted that the transfer be carried out in a 'humane' fashion, but in the following years some 6.75 million Germans were brutally deported. They were made to suffer for Germany's war crimes, but also for the shift in Poland's western boundary as a result of the Soviet Union's occupation of Konigsberg and eastern Poland. Practically the only point on which East and West agreed was that the four occupation zones should be preserved as economic and political units. At first, each power was to draw its reparations from its own zone. As was to be seen later, however, this set a precedent in that not only the reparations arrangement but also the attachment of the four zones to different political and economic systems made Germany the country where the Cold War manifested itself most of all. This came about in stages.

Meanwhile the task of establishing German political parties and administrative authorities had begun in the occupation zones. This happened very quickly in the Soviet zone under rigid control, with the result that even before the end of 1945 parties and several central administrative bodies had been formed.

In the three western zones the development of a political system was a bottom-to-top process, that is to say, political parties were permitted only at local level at first, then at state level after the Lander had been created. Only later were they allowed to form associations at zonal level. Zonal administrative structures were materializing very slowly, and as the destroyed country's material want could only be overcome by means of generous planning across state and zonal borders, and as quadripartite administration was not functioning, the United States and the United Kingdom decided in 1947 to merge their zones economically into what was known as the bizone.

The conflicting systems of government in East and West and the different approach to reparations in the occupation zones were an obstacle to the introduction of uniform financial, taxation, raw materials and production policy throughout Germany, and led to considerable regional disparities. France was not interested in a common economic administration (bizone/trizone) at first. Stalin wanted to have a say in the management of the Ruhr but at the same time sealed his own zone off to the others.

He would not have any western interference with the appointment of pro-communist officials in the Soviet-occupied zone. The western powers were powerless to prevent such arbitrary measures as the compulsory merger of the KPD (East German Communist Party) and the SPD (Social Democratic Party) to form the SED (Socialist Unity Party) in April 1946.

In view of this development the British and Americans, too, began safeguarding their own interests in their respective zones. The military commanders, most of whom were from the conservative mould, detested socialism. Consequently, the old social structure and system of property ownership were retained in the western zones. Moreover, the state of the economy made it necessary for the authorities, rather than continue the denazification process, to engage efficient, hard-working German specialists to help rebuild the western zones so that they could be protected from Soviet encroachments. Thus attitudes on both sides hardened into a cold war. Each accused the other side of being responsible for Germany's division, but these mutual charges hardly concealed the fact that both blocs had gone over to defending their bastions.

An enemy becomes a partner

With his famous speech in Stuttgart on 6 September 1949, US Secretary of State Byrnes had indicated the changed approach. Stalin's occupation of Poland and the redrawing of that country's borders were described as merely temporary measures. As Byrnes saw it, the military role of the western allies in West Germany changed from one of occupation and control to that of protecting powers. And he said that a 'soft' reparations policy was intended to deter the Germans from any nationalist thoughts of revenge and encourage their cooperation.

Finally, on the initiative of the United Kingdom and the United States, a trizone was established as a unified western economic area, after initial French resistance. The threat of another Soviet advance westwards following the coup in Prague on 25 February 1948 induced the French to fall into line. Byrnes' views were reflected first in the Brussels Pact of 17 March 1948 and ultimately in the North Atlantic Treaty of 4 April 1949.

For such an organization to work West Germany had to have a coherent political and economic system. Thus at the Six-Power Conference in London (23 February to 3 March and 20 April to 1 June 1948), which was attended for the first time by the Benelux countries, France, Britain and the United States agreed that the western occupation zones should have a common political structure.

At the 82nd meeting of the Control Council on 20 March 1948, the Soviet epresentative, Marshall Sokolovski, asked for information on the London Conference. When his western colleagues answered evasively Sokolovski walked out, never to return.

While the western powers were still finalizing their recommendations for a constituent assembly to be convened by West Germany's minister presidents (regional premiers), Stalin used the introduction of the deutschmark in the West (currency reform of 20 June 1948) as a pretext for imposing a blockade on West Berlin with the aim of annexing it to the Soviet-occupied zone. During the night of 23 June 1948 all land routes between the western zones and West Berlin were closed. Supplies of energy and food from the eastern sector of Berlin and the Soviet zone stopped.

On 3 August 1948 Stalin demanded that Berlin be recognized as the capital of the GDR (German Democratic Republic), which on 7 October 1949 was given a government of its own. But US President Harry Truman refused to budge, having declared on 20 July that the western allies could not forgo West Berlin nor the creation of a west German state (no Munich of 1948). Until 12 May 1949 West Berlin was kept supplied by an allied airlift. This visible solidarity with Berlin as a western outpost, together with America's demonstration of strength, evoked a spirit of cooperation in West Germany, with the result that former enemies became partners.

To Germany after 1945, part 2

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