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A people without a state: post VE-Day Germany.

From Hitler's suicide to the Berlin blockade - Friedemann Bedurftig looks at he consequences of defeat,the process of denazification and reconstruction and the growing Cold War tensions between the former Allies n charge of the ruins of the Third Reich.

Never was there such a beginning': this dictum was often used later to transfigure the positive side of the German collapse, seen as the opportunity for a new beginning. But what was true for the people and the country at the time was: `Never was there such an end'.

`Germany is not to be occupied for the purpose of liberation but as a defeated enemy nation'. This sentence which occurs in Directive JCS 1067 of May 11th, 1945, giving instructions for the American military administration, yet again focused hatred on Hitler's regime, a hatred which had held the surprising coalition of victors together and transformed Germany into a ruined wasteland.

400 million cubic metres of rubble rose to the sky, entire towns such as Julich or Xanten where the final battles in the West had been fought out had been almost completely obliterated, only a third of cities such as Cologne, Dresden, Kassel or Dortmund were left standing, 40 per cent of all housing was totally destroyed or damaged beyond repair. In what had been modern industrial areas in Silesia and the Ruhr, it was now ruins that were smoking, not factory chimneys. All thirty-three railway bridges crossing the Rhine and the Weser and twenty-two of the thirty-four crossing the Danube lay in the rivers, a third of the railway network was impassable, 1,500 wrecks were blocking the Rhine while 3,455 lay in the seaports of Hamburg, Bremen and Kiel. Electricity and water supplies were working only intermittently and the provision of medical care was also haphazard. The vision of his home city of Mainz which Carl Zuckmayer had written, in exile before the war had become a reality:

I will walk through extinguished cities, In which no stone is left standing on top of another, And even where old stones are still standing, The old familiar lanes have gone.

Millions wandered through this wilderness in search of a resting place, of food, of friends, children or parents. They were people who had been bombed out of their homes and refugees from the East, freed forced labourers and former prisoners. And mainly they were women and children, the old, the sick and the lame, for more than 4 million men had died fighting and 12 million were prisoners. They were all people who had been uprooted, who had lost their home in one way or another, their physical home in the east, their political home within National Socialism, their social or linguistic home, their family or professional one. The future seemed bleak to everyone; many doubted if there could even be a future, and quite a few could no longer believe in it - the suicide rate leapt up, especially in places where excesses by members of the occupying forces who regarded women as part of the booty led to misery.

The rights of the defeated? People elsewhere in the world were already wondering whether even human rights should apply to these Germans. Opponents and passive supporters of the Nazi system and those active in it all stood together in the dock as Germans, rejected by the family of nations which was horrified by the crimes coming to light in the concentration camps and the completely incredible reports from the death factories in the East. Asserting that you had known nothing about it, had had nothing to do with it and at least inwardly had always been `against it' was to no avail. On the contrary, it only damaged the credibility of Germans still further: had the brown-shirted masses supposedly turned overnight into a nation of resistance fighters with the bible on every bedside table, whose close friends had purportedly been the despot's first victims? According to the journalist Walter Lippman writing on May 5th, 1945, the victors had to deal `not with a nation, but a demoralised, ignominious rabble'.

No one would have dreamt of giving these people a say in the new political beginning. The victorious powers, now also including France, had already divided Germany up into occupied zones in February in the Crimea. After Hitler's suicide, the capitulation and the arrest of the Donitz government (May 23rd, 1945) Germany had in fact ceased to exist as a state. Even the administrative structures, already undermined in the war by the National Socialist Party, had collapsed, and those working for authorities that were still intact were far too compromised for it to be possible or desirable to use them in the reconstruction. Before the participation of Germans was even thinkable, they must first be sorted into categories. Until that could be done all responsibility for Germany rested with the Allies who, `in view of the defeat of Germany', took over government powers with the Declaration of June 5th, which ran as follows:

Germany which bears responsibility for the war is no longer capable of resisting the wishes of the victorious powers. ... In Germany there is no central government or authority capable of assuming responsibility for the maintenance of order, the administration of the country or carrying out the orders of the victorious powers ... The governments of the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Kingdom and the provisional government of the French Republic hereby assume supreme authority with respect to Germany, including all powers: those of the German government, the High Command of the Wehrmacht and all national, civic and local governments or authorities.

There was no mention anywhere of the annexation of Germany, on the contrary: the Yalta proposals for dismembering the country had also been abandoned. An Allied Control Council made up of the supreme commanders of the occupation forces was to settle `questions relating to Germany as a whole' from the former capital of the Reich, now divided into four sectors. Admittedly their decisions had to be unanimous, and this at a time when the disappearance of their overall enemy, Hitler, was allowing all kinds of differences of opinion among the victorious powers to come to light. Therefore a way towards a greater community of interest had to be re-established at the highest level. On July 17th the Big Three - Truman, Stalin and Churchill - met at Schloss Cecilienhof, the crown prince's palace in Potsdam, thereby setting an axe to the roots of the idea of a single Germany to be preserved in its entirety.

The final communique of the conference known as the Potsdam Agreement held in Potsdam near Berlin from July 17th to August 2nd, 1945 resembled a treaty. It settled how Germany should be, treated in defeat, stipulating: 1. The total disarmament and demilitarisation of Germany; 2. The dissolution of the National Socialist party and removal of all its members from public office and the bringing to trial of war criminals; 3. Democratisation; 4. The decentralisation of the German administration.

Economic decisions related to: 1. An embargo on the manufacture of armaments; 2. The dismantling of manufacturing plant; 3. The promotion of peaceful industry; 4. Allied control of the economy; 5. Reconstruction; 6. Treating Germany as an economic entity; 7. The payment of reparations.

With regard to territorial changes it was decreed (though subject to a final settlement in the form of a peace treaty): 1. That north-east Prussia should be ceded to the USSR; 2. Other territories east of the Oder-Neisse Line should be placed under Polish administration; 3. That the German population should be expelled from, or more accurately driven out of, Eastern Europe and the German eastern territories `in an orderly and humane fashion'.

General de Gaulle, who was in any case finding it difficult to present France convincingly in the role of a victorious power, was not invited. While he accepted the outcome of the Potsdam Conference, he subsequently raised objections whenever a step towards German unity was under discussion. Another obstacle to the conference's success was the weakness of those representing the West. The leading power was represented by President Truman who as vice-president had taken office on the death of President Roosevelt on April 12th, but had not been elected. British democratic fervour had an even more powerful impact on the position of the West. Elections for the House of Commons took place in the middle of the conference (July 26th-27th), depriving Churchill of office and the summit meeting of its most incisive figure.

Stalin had obtained the West's blessing for shifting Poland westwards to the Oder-Neisse Line primarily to avoid having to return East Poland which he had annexed in 1939 with Hitler's connivance. 2.5 million Poles moved into the German eastern territories of south-east Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia while the Germans were driven out of them. To be more accurate the majority had already fled or been driven out, and not in the `humane' fashion stipulated by the Agreement, but often with extreme brutality. Before and after Potsdam a total of 12 million people moved from the German east, the Sudetenland and south-east Europe into West Germany, and 4.4 million moved into the Soviet Occupied Zone. More than 2 million people died in the process and in the period up to spring 1946 alone 1.6 million passed on from the Russian zone into the Western zones. While deprivation there was just as severe as in central Germany, the social structure had not broken down so completely as in the Soviet zone.

The Soviet Union had started not only to expel people before Potsdam, but also to dismantle industrial plant. In Yalta Stalin had added his voice to the demands made by the Western powers that German industry should be dismantled. This was intended to compensate for a small part of the damage wrought by the German war. The victors were all to help themselves in their own occupation zone. Because of the different levels of industrialisation the Soviet Union was promised an additional 10 per cent of the plant and machinery dismantled in the West. However the dismantling of manufacturing plant soon began to falter because of deteriorating relations between the East and West, so that by the time dismantling actually ended with the Petersberg Agreement of November 22nd, 1949, (it did not end officially until the German treary of May 26th, 1952) only 8 per cent of the industrial capacity of 1936 had been removed. The USSR announced that dismantling had ceased as early as 1948, but was supplied with consignments from current production in the GDR into the 1950s.

The dismantling of its industry weakened the German economy even more and was perceived by the Germans as destroying jobs and the last chances of survival. In the first winter after the war poverty was devastating. `Otto Normalverbraucher' (Otto Average-Consumer - the hero of the Berliner Ballade, a film made by Stemmle in 1948) obtained only 1,000 calories per day for his ration coupons, and when there were delivery bottlenecks - which tended to be often - not even that. The Soviet Commissioner for External Trade, Anastas Mikoyan, reported on a visit to Berlin: `People are eating grass and bark from the trees'. The situation in the countryside was a bit better and anyone who could manage to jump onto the running board of a train went out foraging - a humiliating, arduous search for food in the surrounding farms was known as being `auf Hamsterfahrt' (on the hamster run). A flourishing black market developed in the towns creating fundamental social divisions. It was now those who could offer butter and bacon who called the tune, and those in possession of Lucky Strikes or Camels were real nabobs. Anything could be exchanged for Yankee cigarettes which served as currency in the Germany of the racketeers.

There was also widespread prostitution motivated by necessity. No embargo on fraternisation of the kind imposed by General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the US forces, was successful in preventing sexual association. Hunger at that time was too great. The embargo on contact actually proposed was intended to protect US soldiers from being contaminated with Nazi propaganda Stars and Stripes, the newspaper for the American troops, warned that `In heart, body and spirit every German is Hitler'. Ilya Ehrenburg who was in charge of Soviet propaganda, meanwhile, lumped the Germans together as `fascist beasts'.

The basic denazification of Germany was a priority for all the victorious powers. Of course it was impossible to bring all those in some part involved in despicable acts by the Nazi regime to trial in the same lavish way as the main war criminals in Nuremberg, but it was intended that as few as possible should get off scot-free.

A questionnaire covering 131 points had to be filled in by people leaving no blanks and the tribunals then worked from that; they could also call witnesses and had access to confiscated documents. However, both these procedures were troublesome. How many people had a fixed address, for example, and where in the mountains of papers should one look? Gradually the practice of dealing with the easier cases first was adopted. As the differences between the Allies had meantime increased it was in fact often those most seriously implicated who escaped the tribunals, sometimes for good.

The decisions reached by the Allies at Yalta and Potsdam included the banning of the National Socialist Party and all Nazi propaganda, the repeal of National Socialist laws, the arrest and punishment of leading Nazis, the dismissal of all active National Socialist members from public office and leading positions in the economy, and the cleansing of education of all `Nazi and militaristic' doctrines. The law issued on March 5th, 1946, in the US zone `to eliminate National Socialism and militarism' was binding in all zones by the end of 1946.

In accordance with this law German tribunals classified former National Socialists into five categories: 1. guilty; 2. compromised; 3. less seriously compromised; 4. accessory; 5. exonerated. This led to a flourishing trade in so-called `Persil coupons', testimony by recognised opponents of the Nazis regarding the supposed innocuousness or even resistance activity of those accused. Then large groups (socially disadvantaged and young people) were given a wholesale amnesty. Staff shortages in the public services and growing rivalry between the victors further undermined denazification. It ended on August 26th, 1948, in the Soviet zone, and gradually petered out in the West. A total of 6.08 million cases were dealt with in the Western zones, 4 million coming into category 5 and 1 million into category 4 while only 1,700 came into category I and 23,000 into category 2; 150,000 were regarded as less seriously compromised (category 3).

Nonetheless when it came to combating Nazism the victors still pulled together. In other areas this had already ceased to be the case immediately after Potsdam. To preserve Germany's unity as a state it had been planned at Potsdam to create some `important central administrative offices' at the Allied Control Council which were to be run by German `Secretaries of State', with responsibility for transport and traffic, finance, external trade and industry. It was not the Soviets but the French who sabotaged the conversion of these plans into practice by using their veto in the Control Council. The shock of 1940 was so profound that the slightest concessions towards German independence seemed threatening to France. Thus the victorious powers were thrown back more and more onto their own zones. The remains of Germany now collapsed, and new political life could initially prosper only on a regional basis within the territories of each occupying power.

Even before 1945 centralisation by the National Socialist Party had caused the old provincial structure of Germany to give way to a structure based on the `Gau' (district). Nor were the victors now concerned with what had evolved historically. Austria was immediately detached and divided into zones like Germany, and Vienna like Berlin was split into sectors. Prussia, consisting of two thirds of the former Reich, was perceived by the victors as a `stronghold of militarism', and they therefore felt no compunction about sharing its western remains between all the occupation zones. It was finally disbanded by Law no. 46 passed by the Control Council on February 25th, 1947. The other provinces were distributed among the various zones (see map).

Even in these dire straits there were differences between the living conditions in the various zones. The Americans were particularly distrustful in their dealings with the Germans and set about their re-education with special zeal. During the war they had developed an almost clinical image of Germany and the idea of a kind of psychotherapy for the defeated Germans. It was their intention to confront the Germans with their supposed collective guilt in a kind of shock treatment, for example by taking them by force to visit former concentration camps or making them dig out corpses from mass graves, so bringing them to their senses. This achieved the opposite effect. Writing as early as 1946 Eugen Kogon said that it was not the force of the German conscience that was being awakened, `... but the strength of rejection of the accusation that they had wholesale responsibility for the iniquitous deeds of the National Socialists'. However, as the unrepentant Germans became increasingly well-known to the occupying forces, and not just because of willing `frauleins', the distance between them melted. Coloured GIs in particular who had to put up with the racism of their white comrades were amazed at the warm welcome afforded them in the country that was the fount of racial hatred.

The British too came with the intention of wreaking `vengeance on the wicked and the cruel' (Churchill) who were to `be taught a final lesson' (Montgomery), but also of teaching the precepts of humanity and democracy. The Archbishop of Canterbury appealed for Christian love of one's neighbour with regard to those defeated and the London publisher, Victor Gollancz, launched a campaign against the `Ethics of Starvation' while Commander-in-Chief Field-Marshal Montgomery relaxed the rule prohibiting fraternisation as early as June 10th: `We are a Christian people and like to forgive'. In the July 1945 electoral campaign in Britain Labour successfully appealed for votes with slogans like `Don't be so mean to the Germans!' And the British, more than the other occupying forces, involved those they had conquered in their administration and allowed parliamentary procedures at local level.

General de Lattre de Tassigny, France's governor in south-west Germany, proclaimed that the main goal of his occupation policy was the `eradication of the previous regime down to its psychological roots', but the first and prime concern was to reinforce French authority. Lavish displays at his headquarters, the `Stephanie' hotel in Baden-Baden, and orders disciplining the conquered people were used for this purpose: the first such order was hung out in every town as the troops marched in:

The German civilian population must salute generals and service vehicles carrying a general's insignia (men by removing their hats) ... Failure to comply with this order will result in a collective fine or punishment of the individual concerned.

Things were completely different in the East. The soldiers of the Red Army who took power there were coming to a country that even in destruction seemed many times richer than their native land: `People live well here', a soldier wrote home. `When you go into a house you don't know what your eye will light on first, there are so many lovely things around'. As victors who had been exposed for years to the most brutal German despotism they now regarded all the `lovely things' as their property, confiscating clocks, bicycles, pianos and typewriters by the lorry-load. However, after a short period of indiscriminate looting and aggression order returned here too, though it was an order which was both totally alien to the Germans and at the same time familiar.

Many people in fact found themselves back in places where they had languished during the Third Reich: in concentration camps such as Buchenwald or Sachsenhausen which had been converted to a new use. The new-old inmates were Social Democrats who did not want to abandon their misguided civic ideals or active Nazis - though they had previously been on the other side of the fence. As the Soviet Military Administration (known as SMAD) did not look into things too closely, the camps filled up with people who had been denounced and who then had very little opportunity of proving their innocence.

On the other hand, anyone who proved co-operative was allowed to collaborate on `anti-fascist democratic' reconstruction along Soviet guidelines earlier than in the Western zones. Stalin was clearer in mind than the Western powers about what he wanted in Germany: to create an advanced strategic and ideological bastion. To do this he could not use a hostile population. Even during the war he had spoken of the `Hitlers' who `come and go' while the German people remain. He gave permission for parties to reform as early as June 10th, 1945.

Majority support was indeed part of Stalin's strategy for embracing the Germans, for as long as it took to put a civic facade in place. The ten-man group led by Walter Ulbricht (later to become the master of the DDR, East Germany) with Soviet instructors had already landed from Moscow at Bruchmuhle near Berlin on May 2nd. Ulbricht presented himself everywhere as a `former member of the Reichstag' and began to build up his power according to the maxim: `It has to look democratic, but we must control everything'. He did not even propose a Communist as the first head of the freed city of Berlin, preferring Dr Arthur Werner who did not belong to any party. Meanwhile, the transformation of East German society will under way. On October 30th, by means of order no. 124, the commander-in-chief Marshal Zhukov expropriated the banks and brought large-scale industry under state control, converted firms that were not suitable for dismantling into `Volkseigene Betriebe' (VEBs - state-owned companies) and effected the `liquidation of feudal, squirearchical property tenure'.

The parties which had been created in the meantime had formed an `Einheitsfront' (United Front) coalition. Already by the end of the year this did not go far enough for the Soviet Military Administration, which encouraged Ulbricht to exert pressure on the SPD (Socialist Party) to merge with the KPD (Communist Party). This did not meet with a straight `no' from the Social Democrats who were reluctant to be beaten again if they left the coalition. The message in an appeal to the public in Hamburg was: `The bloody lesson of Hitler's twelve-year dictatorship ... is unequivocal: "Unanimity - unity!"' But there were also warning voices and in the West, initially in Hanover, the SPD started to be rebuilt by one of these, Kurt Schumacher. Marked by ten years' imprisonment in a concentration camp and his experiences with his Communist fellow prisoners, he categorically refused to go along with `people receiving their orders from the Kremlin'. And even the Berlin members who had been willing to unite were soon alerted as it became increasingly clear that unification could be effected only on Communist Party terms. Communist officials informed emissaries of the SPD: `We call the shots now'. But it was too late, and in April 1946 under tremendous pressure from the Russians the SPD in the eastern zone under Otto Grotewohl agreed to merge with the KPD to form the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands - Socialist Unity Party of Germany).

The split affected not only the SPD but the whole of Germany which was feeling the impact of developments in world politics. A series of seizures of power by the Communists in eastern and south-eastern Europe was perturbing the Western powers who could see the spectre of world revolution looming large. This pushed the re-education of the Germans off the agenda, and the Germans themselves were only too happy about this. The policy of using containment against Communism needed someone to build the dam, and the Germans were of course experts in this field. How or from whom they had learnt their skill soon came to be regarded as a side issue. As they were more important as allies, gradually they began to be given political rights again, and in the West naturally along the democratic lines favoured by the victors there.

A lot of new parties formed, as well as the SPD, to start with at zonal level, including a `Christian' party which had learnt its lesson from the confessional divisions of Weimar. The CDU (Christlich-Demokratische Union), which adopted this name (at the suggestion of Andreas Hermes) as early as June 16th, 1945, at a meeting in West Berlin, wanted to be electorally attractive to Catholics and Protestants alike and build a bulwark `against Communist, atheist dictatorship'. This was by no means intended as a capitalist programme, but rather as `Christian socialism'. Like the SPD and the liberals of the also newly created FDP (Frei Demokratische Partei - Free Democratic Party), until 1947-48 the CDU also turned over plans for state ownership and programmes for land distribution, only becoming associated with the idea of the market economy at a later stage. Another thing which was common to the parties founded in the West (with the obvious exception of the KPD) was their opposition to Bolshevism.

The United States in particular turned its mind to how to bring about economic recovery as a means of bringing stability to their new ally. There were no limits to what could be achieved within a single zone, so at the end of 1946 it was agreed that the British and American zones should be treated together as a `Bizone' - the British-American zone - with effect from January 1st, 1947. The French did not want to join in as to them the German danger still seemed greater than the Communist one. The Americans saw how the frontier between them and the Soviet zone was becoming increasingly impenetrable, taking on the character of an `Iron Curtain'; Goebbels had predicted this as early as February 1945 and Churchill had subsequently denounced its inhumanity on several occasions.

The Western powers even contributed towards sealing off the Iron Curtain by acceding in Directive no. 42 issued by the Control Council on October 29th, 1946, to the Russian proposal to close the border in order to stem the flood of refugees. These refugees would have endangered the economic reconstruction which the Western powers were pursuing. To achieve this they had to turn Germany, their pensioner whom they were pap-feeding with school meals and CARE (Co-operative for American Remittances to Europe; a privately based initiative to alleviate post-war poverty in Germany) parcels into a country capable of fending for itself.

Economic success was to lead to the final division of Germany: nothing is so successful in creating divisions as money. Money was now to flow out of the USA into the war-ravaged countries of Europe. On June 5th, 1947, Marshall, the American Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, announced a reconstruction package for Europe, officially known as the European Recovery Program but commonly referred to as the Marshall Plan. Following that 12 to 15 billion dollars were to be transferred for the modernisation and renewal of industry and infrastructure. Moscow however refused to accept aid for the Russian zone, thus ensuring the deepening of the divide running through Germany. The West ordained currency reform (June 20th, 1948) as a precondition for the efficiency of injecting money, which created a division in Germany as an economic entity. The Soviets retaliated with a reform of their own, and finally by sealing off West Berlin when it was included in the currency area of the West.

The blockade was overcome by the airlift within a year, but the division of Germany was not to be overcome until over four decades later.
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Title Annotation:Victory and 'Zero Hour' 1945: The Experience and Consequences of the World at War
Author:Bedurftig, Friedemann
Publication:History Today
Date:May 1, 1995
Words:4657
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